FEATURE STORY

New Little Green Data Book Paints Striking Picture of Pollution

June 16, 2015


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Tran Thi Hoa / World Bank

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The latest edition of the World Bank's Little Green Data Book includes two new indicators on air pollution based on state-of-the art methodology to measure exposure and health impacts.
  • Poor air quality is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, claiming the lives of more than 7 million people, 90 percent of whom live in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Estimates on economic costs of air pollution show that productivity losses in the global labor force due to death and disability from air pollution topped US$ 161 billion in 2010.

In many parts of the world, exposure to air pollution is increasing at an alarming rate and has become the main environmental threat to health. The latest edition of the World Bank’s annual compilation of environment data - Little Green Data Book 2015 (LGDB)documents this for over 200 countries in terms of both physical exposure to air pollution and its economic costs.  This book features two new pollution indicators on ambient air pollution in both urban and rural areas:  mean annual exposure to PM2.5 pollution and percent of total population exposed to PM2.5 pollution above World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline values of an annual average of 10 μg/cu. m.

This year’s edition includes three important changes in how air pollution is measured:

  • All air pollution indicators are now expressed as exposure to suspended particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), as opposed to the earlier measure of particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10).  PM2.5 is a subset of PM10, but constitutes the very fine particulates capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory tract and causing severe health damage.  
  • In previous years, the estimates of ambient air pollution was limited to exposure to outdoor PM10 pollution in urban areas with more than 100,000 people.  Now, ambient air pollution is measured for all urban as well as rural areas. 
  • This year’s estimates of the economic costs of air pollution (related to health impacts) also includes exposure to indoor air pollution, as indicated by household use of solid fuels. 

Data on air pollution exposure and associated health impacts are published in the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, an international scientific effort led by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. Updated results will be published in the forthcoming Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.



" The latest pollution data only shows that this problem is more pressing than ever. Air pollution endangers the health of the most vulnerable – the poor and children.  "

Paula Caballero

Senior Director, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice

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Source: World Development Indicators 2015


Invisible but deadly

Globally, almost 84 percent of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines.  Average exposure to air pollution has worsened since 1990 for East Asia & Pacific and South Asia regions and remained the same for Sub-Saharan Africa.  In contrast, conditions have improved significantly for Europe & Central Asia, and marginally for Latin America & Caribbean and Middle East & North Africa. Globally, population-weighted exposure to PM2.5 increased by as much as 10 percent between 1990 and 2010.

"The latest pollution data only shows that this problem is more pressing than ever. Air pollution endangers the health of the most vulnerable – the poor and children. Good data should help make pollution front and center in public health as well as economic planning,’’ said Paula Caballero, Senior Director, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice.

Air pollution is a global challenge but is most acutely felt in developing countries. As one of the leading causes of death worldwide, illness caused by ambient and household air pollution claims the lives of more than 7 million people each year according to WHO. More than 90 percent of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

Making a business case for pollution

Taking this work further, the World Bank estimates the economic costs of pollution. Apart from the human toll, pollution represents a cost to the economy and a risk to sustainability.  In the adjusted net saving framework, presented in the LGDB, health impacts (i.e., death and disability from air pollution) are now monetized as productivity losses during working age. This is an improvement in previously-followed methodology and is more compatible with standard national accounting framework.

Productivity losses in the global labor force due to death and disability from air pollution totaled more than US$ 161 billion in 2010, including US$ 89 billion in low and middle income countries.

With the methodology updated to reflect the latest findings in the academic literature, these new country-level estimates on the economic cost of air pollution help make a business case for why countries need to invest in air quality management.

"Apart from assessing the physical impacts of pollution on health, there is a need for parallel work to evaluate the economic impacts of pollution.  Valuation helps countries determine a course of action to reduce air pollution that makes economic and financial sense,” said Carter Brandon, Chief Economist for the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice. 

Renewed commitment by the World Bank

In a renewed commitment to tackle air pollution, the World Bank launched a new program in April 2015 called the Pollution Management and Environmental Health (PMEH) program, marking a renewed commitment in the Bank to tackle air pollution. The objectives of the PMEH program are to: (1) support countries in reducing pollution; (2) generate new knowledge about the impacts of pollution; and (3) raise awareness on the issue of pollution. The PMEH is being backed by a multi-donor trust fund and managed by the Bank.

The World Bank provides support to countries most severely impacted by pollution. Between 2009 and 2014, World Bank commitments (IBRD/IDA) to pollution management and environmental health totaled approximately $5 billion, with results spanning air pollution reduction in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, disposing safely of persistent organic pollutants in five countries in Africa, to easing pollution in China’s rivers.



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