Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pollution behind ‘1 in 6 global deaths’ in 2019



Pollution behind ‘1 in 6 global deaths’ in 2019

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A runner jogs at Primrose Hill with the Shard in the background as a high air pollution warning was issued for London on March 24. AFP

Pollution behind ‘1 in 6 global deaths’ in 2019

Pollution caused some 9 million people to die prematurely in 2019, according to a new global report published on May 18, with experts raising alarm over increasing deaths from breathing outside air and the “horrifying” toll of lead poisoning.

Human-created waste in the air, water and soil rarely kills people immediately, but causes instead heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems, diarrhoea and other serious illnesses.

The Lancet Commission on pollution and health said the impact from pollution on global health remains “much greater than that of war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs and alcohol”.

Pollution is an “existential threat to human health and planetary health, and jeopardises the sustainability of modern societies,” it added.

In general, the review found, air pollution – accounting for a total of 6.7 million deaths globally in 2019 – was “entwined” with climate change because the main source of both problems is burning fossil fuels and biofuels.

“If we can’t manage to grow in a clean and green way, we’re doing something terribly wrong,” said the report’s lead author Richard Fuller, of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, adding that chemical pollution also harms biodiversity – another major global threat.

“These things are terribly connected and strategies to deal with one have ripple effects all the way through,” he said.

Overall, one in six premature deaths globally – or nine million – were caused by pollution, a figure unchanged since the last assessment in 2015.

Researchers noted a reduction in mortality linked to indoor air pollution, unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation, with major improvements seen in Africa.

But early deaths associated with industrialisation – outdoor air and chemical pollution – are on the rise, particularly in southern and eastern Asia.

Ambient air pollution caused some 4.5 million deaths in 2019, according to the study, published in Lancet Planetary Health, compared with 4.2 million in 2015 and just 2.9 million in 2000.

Chemical pollution is also increasing, with lead poisoning alone causing 900,000 deaths. Even that, the report warned, is likely a “substantial undercount” in light of new research suggesting there is no safe level of exposure.

Algeria banned lead in petrol in 2021, the last country to do so.

But people continue to be exposed to the toxic substance, largely due to unregulated recycling of lead-acid batteries and e-waste. Contaminated culinary spices are also a culprit.

“The fact that lead is getting worse, mostly in poorer countries, and ramping up in terms of the number of deaths, is horrifying,” said Fuller.

Heart disease is the cause of almost all early deaths from exposure to lead, which hardens arteries, said Fuller.

But elevated lead levels in blood – estimated to affect hundreds of millions of children – also harm brain development and are linked to serious losses of cognitive function.

The report said lead is also linked to a spike in behavioural disorders and diminished economic productivity, with global economic losses estimated at almost $1 trillion annually.

In Africa, economic losses from lead-related IQ loss are equivalent to about four percent of gross domestic product, while in Asia it amounts to two percent.

MOST VIEWED

  • South Korea’s first lady brings hope to ill boy

    South Korea’s first lady Kim Keon-hee – wife of current president of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol – met with a 14-year-boy with congenital heart disease during her trip to the Kingdom for the ASEAN Summit. After their meeting it was announced that the

  • Hun Sen gets Covid, shuns G20, APEC summits

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said he has tested positive for Covid-19 in Indonesia, where he is slated to attend the G20 summit in his capacity of the ASEAN chair. In a social media post addressing the Cambodian public, he said: “Before leaving Cambodia, I always

  • Moody’s sets outlook rating to ‘negative’ for Cambodia

    US global rating agency Moody’s Investors Service Inc on November 15 announced that it downgraded Cambodia’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” and maintained its B2 local and foreign currency issuer ratings. “The negative outlook reflects a deteriorating external position as illustrated by the severe

  • Hun Sen’s Covid infection caused by ‘weakened antibody’ after summit

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said exhaustion from heavy workload before and during the recent ASEAN Summit may have led to him contracting Covid-19 due to his weakened immune system, while rejecting speculations that the infection was caused by leaders of some countries who did not

  • Korean first lady paves way for ill boy’s surgery

    A 14-year-old boy with congenital heart disease who was lucky enough to meet with South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee may get the chance of a lifetime and receive surgery and treatment at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. After seeing his plight, many

  • Kingdom’s rice crowned world’s No1

    Cambodia’s Phka Rumduol jasmine variety has been crowned the World’s Best Rice for the fifth time at the TRT (The Rice Trader) World Rice Conference in Phuket, Thailand on November 17, according to leaders of the Kingdom’s apex rice industry body. Phka Rumduol