Often, environmental challenges seem too intractable and too big to even approach, but when it comes to pollution, there is good reason to stay positive. Santiago, Chile and Bangkok, Thailand serve as proof that action to curb pollution returns health and economic benefits directly to the local population.
Every year, 8.9 million people die from preventable deaths caused by air, water and land pollution – of them, 8.4 million live in developing countries. Polluted air is among the greatest threats to health in low- and middle-income countries, causing roughly 7 million deaths globally between ambient and household pollution.
While pollution severely impacts the health and well-being of citizens around the globe, it is largely solvable with action on the local level.
Years ago, Santiago was a city overwhelmed with smog. With the air pollution that choked the city, came diseases and discomforts for the city’s residents.
“I had crises every 15 days,” says Fransica Ianes, 25, once a victim of the smothering air pollution in Santiago. “I remember that my mother had to take me to the emergency room and they had to give me oxygen.”
Fransica’s story is not unique. Decades ago, a study showed that roughly half the children in Santiago suffered from respiratory illnesses from the air pollution in the city. In 1995, a World Bank study showed that the cost of healthcare for pollution-related illnesses in Santiago was greater than the cost to clean up the pollution in the city.
In the years since, Santiago has adopted cleaner urban transport, emission controls on cars and factories, use of cleaner gas and energy sources, and promotion of bicycles. (See chart below). Residents of all ages and all backgrounds are feeling the benefits.
“Every year I can tell there are fewer and fewer children coming to the hospital for respiratory illnesses,” says Ianes, a nurse at Calvo Mackenna hospital who is optimistic about the future for Santiago.