MAC: Mines and Communities

World Health Organization makes Air Pollution a Global Priority

Published by MAC on 2015-06-01
Source: Statement (2015-05-28)

According to the World Health Assembly, some seven million premature deaths each year are caused by air pollution, of which an estimated 627,000 occur in India alone.

The chief culprits are road vehicles and coal mining and combustion, which in turn increase the global burden of heat-trapping gases, including respirable dust, heavy metals like mercury, acidic sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides.

The International Monetary Fund in a recent study found that “subsidies”, or the societal costs, of using fossil fuels worldwide - at US$5.3 trillion annually - surpassed all health spending.

The IMF also concluded that ending these subsidies would slash the number of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 55% - saving around 1.6 million people each year from an early death.

Dispensing with reliance on coal, said the IMF, would account for a 93 percent share of this reduction.

World Health Organization makes Air Pollution a Global Priority

Press Release

28 May 2015

Leading doctors across the country have welcomed a recent resolution by the World Health Assembly mandating greater engagement by the World Health Organization to address air pollution – a problem responsible for one out of eight deaths worldwide. It follows the WHO’s finding that air pollution exposure caused 7 million premature deaths in 2012, more than twice the death toll from HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. The Global Burden of Disease assessments for 2010 estimated that 6,27,000 premature deaths in India can be attributed to outdoor air pollution. Also, According to the World Health Organization, 25-30 cities in the top 100 most polluted cities in the world are from India.

The resolution has particular relevance for India where concentrated fossil fuel usage – for vehicles in cities and coal-fired electricity generation, is set to increase massively. This will lead to local land-use changes and pollution from coal mining and combustion, and will dangerously increase the global burden of heat-trapping gases (including respirable dust, heavy metals like mercury, acidic sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides) in the atmosphere. Such impacts will have a significant bearing on public health and the environment, which in turn will have ramifications for family and local economies, and state expenditure on health care and environmental remediation.

“Respirable dust is a major cause of lung disease and cardiac problems, and cannot be taken lightly. With killer particles like this, prevention is better than cure,” said Dr. Hisamuddin Papa, a noted Rotarian and a leading lung specialist from Huma Specialists Hospital and Research Centre Pvt Ltd in Chennai.

“If we are looking to address air pollution, we need to urgently address how we handle our transportation and how we generate and distribute our electricity. Both are currently intensely dependent on fossil fuels, and this has to change,” said Dr. Rakhal Gaitonde, a public health expert.

The magnitude and urgency of the problem continues to far outweigh the scale of the action. Earlier this month, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report found that “subsidies”, or societal costs of fossil fuels worldwide surpassed all health spending globally, amounting to U.S. $5.3 trillion, or 6.5% of global GDP. The IMF also found that ending these subsidies would slash the number of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 55%, or about 1.6 million lives a year. Moving away from coal, they found, would account for a 93 percent share of this reduction.

Coal also accounts for one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, so a transition away from coal would also protect public health from climate change. Yet, the health benefits of transitioning from fossil fuels has not been mentioned in the resolution.

“ This resolution on Health and the Environment with a focus on addressing the health impact of air pollution is timely and important. It provides an opportunity for a serious review of policies and practices that result in 600,000 deaths annually in India and a host of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the control of which is also high on the health and development agenda. India suffers the twin burden of indoor and outdoor air pollution due to lack of access to clean cooking fuels and cumulative vehicular and industrial pollution. Indian cities are among the most polluted globally. Wide consultation and urgent action across society is called for”, says Dr. Thelma Narayan, Director, SOCHARA (Society for Community Health Awareness Research and Action).

A year from now, WHO plans to propose a roadmap for an enhanced global health sector response to address the adverse health effects of air pollution.

There is an urgent need for increased visibility of and debate over the health ramifications of energy choices and air pollution in India. The health community around the world has begun to recognize these ramifications and issue recommendations for how to protect and improve health while increasing energy access.

The WHO resolution on Air Pollution can be found here: http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA68/A68_ACONF2Rev1-en.pdf

About Healthy Energy Initiative

The Healthy Energy Initiative, a program of Health Care Without Harm, is a global network of health professionals, academics, and organizations calling for a shift from coal and other fossil fuels, to clean, renewable, healthy energy. For more details, visit www.healthyenergyinitiative.org

About Health Care Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm works to transform the health sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it becomes ecologically sustainable and a leading advocate for environmental health and justice.

For further information, contact:
Divya Narayanan
+91 98845 21072
narayanan.div[at]gmail.com

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