Africa hardest hit as pollution claims 9 million lives a year

pollutants, air pollution, household pollution, environment, dumpsite

A woman scavenging for plastics at a dumpsite in Motherland, Eastleigh, on May 5, 2022.

Photo credit: JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The analysis offered a list of the 10 countries affected most by pollution-related deaths, including seven from Africa. The list included Chad, Central African Republic, Niger, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, North Korea, Lesotho, Bulgaria and Burkina Faso.
  • The study looked more specifically at the causes of pollution, separating traditional contaminants such as indoor smoke or sewage from more modern pollutants like industrial air pollution and toxic chemicals.

By PAULINE ONGAJI

A research has revealed that worsening outdoor air pollution and toxic lead poisoning have caused nine million deaths from environmental contamination per year  since 2015.

The scientists’ analysis of data on global mortality and pollution levels further indicates that air pollution from industry processes along with urbanisation drove a seven per cent increase in pollution-related deaths from 2015 to 2019.

In the study published in the online journal Lancet Planetary Health, the researchers analysed 2019 data from the Global Burden of Disease, an ongoing study by the University of Washington that assesses overall pollution exposure and calculates mortality risk.

According to Rachael Kupka, co-author and executive director of the New York-based Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, deaths caused by exposure to modern pollutants such as heavy metals, agrochemicals and fossil fuel emissions are skyrocketing, rising 66 per cent since 2000, with Africa still struggling with deaths from traditional pollutants.

The analysis offered a list of the 10 countries affected most by pollution-related deaths, including seven from Africa. The list included Chad, Central African Republic, Niger, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, North Korea, Lesotho, Bulgaria and Burkina Faso.

The study looked more specifically at the causes of pollution, separating traditional contaminants such as indoor smoke or sewage from more modern pollutants like industrial air pollution and toxic chemicals.

Tainted water, soil and dirty indoor air put Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger as the three countries with the most pollution-related deaths. On the other hand, in countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria, state programmes to cut indoor air pollution and improvements in sanitation helped reduce death tolls by two-thirds between 2000 and 2019. A 2018 WHO report indicated that nine out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants, estimations revealing an alarming death toll of seven million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution.

In 2016, ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period. According to WHO, more than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.

These latest figures put pollution at par with smoking in terms of global deaths, and even higher than Covid-19 that in comparison has killed about 6.7 million people globally since the pandemic began.

"We're sitting in the stew pot and slowly burning. But unlike climate change, malaria, or HIV, we haven't given (environmental pollution) much focus," said Richard Fuller, a study co-author and head of the global non-profit Pure Earth.


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