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The World Bank

Industrialization, use of pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilizers, crop residues in agriculture, urbanization, forest fires, desert dust, and inadequate waste management have intensified environmental health risks and pollution, especially in low-and-middle-income-countries. Air pollution, exposure to lead and other chemicals, and hazardous wastes including exposure to improper e-waste disposal, cause debilitating and fatal illnesses, create harmful living conditions, and destroy ecosystems. Pollution stunts economic growth, exacerbates poverty and inequality in both urban and rural areas and significantly contributes to climate change. Poor people, who cannot afford to protect themselves from the negative impacts of pollution, end up suffering the most.

Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death.  Pollution causes more than 11 million premature deaths. That’s several times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. Global health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic are reminders of the strong linkages between environment and health and of the need to address such linkages systematically. Air pollution is a risk multiplier that is exacerbating the health consequences of the pandemic.

Air pollution is the leading environmental risk to health. A recent World Bank publication found that air pollution cost the globe an estimated $8.1 trillion in 2019, equivalent to 6.1 percent of global GDP. 95 percent of deaths caused by air pollution occur in low- and middle- income countries. In individual countries, the economic burden of pollution associated with premature mortality and morbidity is also significant, equivalent to 5 to 14 percent of countries' GDPs. 

Individual studies for ArgentinaBangladeshColombiaEgyptEthiopiaGeorgiaIndiaLao PDRMexicoMyanmar, NepalNicaraguaNigeria PakistanPeru, Slovakia, Ghana and Vietnam, at national and subnational levels, suggest that the costs of pollution-related disease are mainly due to outdoor and household air pollution; and exposure to lead and other chemicals.

It is critical to address pollution because of its unacceptable toll on health and human capital, as well as associated GDP losses. Pollution management offers no-regrets options that can alleviate poverty, boost shared prosperity, and address the vital demands of millions of people for healthier and more productive lives. Pollution management can also make substantial contributions to climate change mitigation through actions such as reduction of black carbon and methane emissions, which contribute to both air pollution and climate change. In addition, pollution management can enhance competitiveness, for example, through job creation, better energy efficiency, improved transport, and sustainable urban and rural development.