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WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

Fighting pollution is in our own interest

Pollution, largely a by-product of urban landscapes, is also inextricably linked with climate change.

In Summary

• Air pollution caused more deaths in 2015 than tobacco, which was responsible for 7.2 million deaths.

• Children face the highest risk owing to exposure to chemicals in utero and in early childhood.

Smoke is seen rising from a cement company.
HEALTH HAZARD: Smoke is seen rising from a cement company.
Image: FILE

In 1974 the United Nations designated June 5 as World Environment Day. Over the last 45 years, this day has become a platform for global public outreach to rally policies and action to protect and improve the quality of our environment.

The theme of the 2018 World Environment Day, hosted by India was Beat Plastic Pollution. Last week Tanzania joined over 65 countries that have banned the use of lightweight plastic bags.

Plastics are choking our river systems, polluting large inland lakes and our oceans. Municipal sewer systems are clogged with plastic.

The World Environment Day 2019 will be hosted by China and theme is Air Pollution. About 92 per cent of people worldwide do not breathe clean air.

Air pollution is estimated to cost the global economy $5 trillion every year, which is about the same size of Japan, the third largest economy in the world.

When we are done poisoning our air, soils, water, vegetation and animal, planet earth will be just fine. But we will be extinct as a species.

In 2015, air pollution caused an estimated 8.8 million extra deaths globally. This means air pollution caused more deaths in 2015 than tobacco, which was responsible for 7.2 million deaths.

Children face the highest risk owing to exposure to chemicals in utero and in early childhood. Such exposures can result in lifelong disease, disability or premature death.

Air pollution is, therefore, a major planetary health risk. Pollution, which is largely a by-product of urban landscapes, is also inextricably linked with climate change.

According to maps produced by Greenpeace, two-thirds of cities in the world with adequate air quality data are suffering from dangerous levels of pollution.

Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometre, or PM2.5, constitutes the largest environmental risk in the world, and especially in cities in the developing world.

Within cities, emissions of PM2.5 from road vehicles are an important source. Industrial emissions can also be an important source of PM2.5. Most PM2.5-related deaths are not from respiratory causes but from cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart disease.

As we mark the 45th World Environment Day, we must recognise that the unprecedent surge in air pollution and the associated morbidity and mortality is strongly correlated with the rapid pace of urbanisation.

While governments have the responsibility to enact and enforce regulations to curb pollution, business owners, citizens and civil society have a duty to act responsibly and reduce our ecological footprint.

About 70 per cent of mankind will live in cities by 2050. Responsible urbanisation and stewardship of our planet is not in any way a favour to the planet.

Acting responsibly to curb all forms of pollution is in our own interest. We will be saving our own lives and that of future generations.

When we are done poisoning our air, soils, water, vegetation and animal, planet earth will be just fine. But we will be extinct as a species.