What kills more people than AIDS? Air pollution.


Pollution: The silent killer

A recent study by the World Health Organization provides a mixture of good news and bad news. Compared to 20 years ago, there are fewer deaths from infectious diseases, maternal and child illness, and malnutrition. But they also found that air pollution is a giant killer, probably bigger than we suspected.

Air pollution kills more people around the world each year than are killed by AIDS and malaria, combined. What’s the big deal?

Looking at figures from 2010, the report found that 3.5 million deaths a year are caused by indoor air pollution, with 3.3 million dead from outdoor air pollution. The total amount is less than the sum of the two figures, the report notes, as there are probably half a million deaths that have been caused by a combination of both factors.

No matter the exact total, better measurements mean we have a significant increase from previous figures for air pollution deaths, which last tallied 3.2 million deaths from air pollution from both sources combined. So air pollution kills twice as many people as we previously thought, and much more than AIDS (1.8 million) and malaria (655k). Why do we so rarely hear about it?

The good news is that the ways to clean up the air aren’t rarely known. A lot of Western countries have made huge progress, and this expertise can be transferred. The bad news is that the places more affected by air pollution are generally rather poor developing countries, and resources are relatively scarce. That’s why I believe that the moral thing to do is provide more help in that area. International aid could redirect some of their attention to air pollution, because it kills so many, even if it doesn’t give you much footage.

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