World pollution deadlier than wars, disasters, hunger: study

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Filthy, contaminated water and air is killing more people every year than all the world’s combined war and violence.

That’s the conclusion drawn in a new report published in The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and best known medical journals.

“What we found was about 16 per cent of all deaths worldwide were due to pollution. When we say pollution we’re not talking just about air pollution but pollutions of all sorts, including lead, chemical exposures, waterborne toxic chemicals,” says Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a health sciences professor at SFU and the report’s author.

“Pollution accounted for three times more deaths than AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria combined. We invest a lot of dollars appropriately in controlling those infections but we haven’t been investing the same kinds of dollars in reducing pollution.”

That 16 per cent equates to roughly 9 million people, while the contamination also accounts for more deaths each year than hunger, smoking or natural disaster.

“In one sense, it’s not a surprise. You can imagine trying to quantify this around the world is really quite challenging and perhaps it’s important to point out that it’s undoubtedly an underestimate. There are some countries we just don’t have data from,” says Lanphear, who is also a medical doctor.

The study also suggests pollution disproportionately kills the poor, saying more than 90 per cent of pollution-related deaths happen in low or middle-income countries.

“The greatest exposures to pollution are in the rapidly-developing and oftentimes rapidly-industrialized countries, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa. And one of the points we make in the commission report, which I think is really critical, is that rapid development doesn’t have to come along with pollution,” explains Lanphear.

There’s also a financial aspect.

“If we don’t take action, there’s a huge cost. On the other hand, what we know about controlling community-wide pollution is that it’s much more cost-effective or cost-beneficial than it is trying to treat disease one person at a time,” says Lanphear.

Pollution-related death and sickness costs more than $4.5 trillion in financial losses very year which is 6.2 per cent of the global economy.

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