About the air that we breath


Toxic levels of pollution lead annually to the early death of an estimated 7 million people, according to a new World Health Organization report.
Nine out of 10 people around the world are exposed to dangerously high levels of pollutants that can lead to cancer and cardiovascular diseases, according to the study, which drew off the most-recent 2016 data. Air pollution levels were the highest in the eastern Mediterranean and southeast Asia, where in some areas airborne toxins were five times WHO limits and disproportionately affected the poor and most vulnerable.
It’s not just the air outdoors in polluted cities that poses a danger to public health. About 3 billion people are breathing deadly fumes from domestic cooking stoves and fires, according to the Geneva-based agency. Household air pollution caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in 2016.
More than 90 percent of air pollution deaths affect low and middle-income countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, according to the report.
“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.” (Bloomberg, Jeremy Hodges, May 2, 2018).
Smog is a problem in several cities around the world and is harming human health. Senior citizens, children and people with heart and lung conditions like bronchitis and asthma are especially susceptible. Smog can inflame the airways, decrease the lungs’ working capacity and cause shortness of breath, pain when inhaling deeply, wheezing, and coughing. It can cause eye and nose irritation and it dries out the protective membranes of the nose and throat and interferes with the body’s ability to fight infection, increasing susceptibility to illness. If any of these symptoms are familiar in your surroundings, they could be related to smog or air pollution. Think again.
Worldwide air pollution is responsible for large numbers of deaths and cases of respiratory disease. Gases such as carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming, are gaining recognition as major pollutants.
While major stationary sources like factories are often identified with air pollution, the greatest source of emissions is actually mobile, mainly automobiles. This is no different in Addis Abeba as there are hardly any factories in the city center as compared to the ever-increasing numbers of cars, many of which lack modern exhaust filters. In addition, meals are cooked in many homes by burning wood sending vast amounts of domestic smoke into the air. Cars, buses and trucks with diesel engines seem the worst polluters as they spit out huge amounts of black exhaust right into the face of pedestrians walking along the road. It is not only a lack of modern exhaust filters; it is also a lack of maintenance, while many cars are assembled at sea level and not tuned to the altitude of Addis Abeba where the oxygen/fuel mixture is negatively affected by the thinner air.
Admittedly, the smog in Addis Abeba may not yet have reached such serious levels and the numbers of cars and polluting industries are still far less than in other cities around the world but we are moving in that direction.
Imagine the effects on the economy, which we are desperately trying to boost. Many workers will be less effective while health related costs will become a burden for society. Meanwhile we will continue to contribute to global warming while we should find ways to reduce emissions and thus reduce global warming, which is believed to be a major cause for climate change of which we increasingly see the effects regionally and locally. More frequent and serious periods of drought, followed by floods are situations that do not contribute to economic growth, do they?
Talking about our environment, smog is not the only result of pollution in the city. There are other obvious signs of pollution, which negatively affect the environment we live and work in. The other day, I had a visitor from abroad in my car and he just couldn’t believe all the dirt he saw lying around town and along the roads. Surely, the way we deal with domestic and industrial waste is an issue here. And while there are some good initiatives in collecting domestic waste, this often doesn’t go much further than taking it out of sight to a dump somewhere else in the neighbourhood where it lies rotting and stinking away several days before taken to the city waste dump. The health hazards are obvious.
I could go on but I guess I made my point. Pollution negatively affects our health and economic growth. Something needs to be done about it, in terms of legislation, yes but probably more so by investors, industrial sectors and individuals becoming aware of their contributions to it and developing a consciousness to change our attitude towards the environment we live and work in and the air that we breath.

Ton Haverkort