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Industrialization and urbanization have intensified environmental health risks and pollution, especially in developing countries. Air pollution, lead poisoning, inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene, and hazardous wastes cause debilitating and fatal illnesses, create harmful living conditions, and destroy ecosystems. Pollution stunts economic growth and exacerbates poverty and inequality in both urban and rural areas. 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 of air, land, and water cause more than 9 million premature deaths (16% of all deaths worldwide). That’s three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence. Global health crises, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic further highlight the need for continued action in addressing environmental pollution. Ongoing research is finding close links between air pollution and incidence of illness and death due to COVID-19.

According to the World Bank, at an international level the cost associated with health damage from ambient air pollution is estimated to be $5.7 trillion, equivalent to 4.8% of global GDP. In individual countries, the economic burden of pollution associated with premature mortality and morbidity is also significant, equivalent to 5 to 14% of countries' GDPs.  Individual country studies, for Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Lao PDR, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria,  PakistanPeru and Zambia, at national and subnational levels, suggest that the costs of pollution-related disease are mainly due to outdoor and household air pollution; lead exposure; noise pollution; and inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

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. In addition, pollution management can enhance competitiveness, for example, through job creation, better energy efficiency, improved transport, and sustainable urban and rural development. Pollution management can also make substantial contributions to climate change mitigation through actions, such as reduction of black carbon emissions, which contribute to both air pollution and global warming.