The World Health Organisation (WHO) has sounded the alarm bells on air pollution, finding that 1.7 million children die every year because they live in polluted environments. The WHO report says that a quarter of all global deaths of children under five are due to unhealthy or polluted environments including dirty water and air, second-hand smoke and a lack of adequate hygiene. The reports says such unsanitary and polluted environments can lead to fatal cases of diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.
Sadly, the images of people in the streets wearing masks as they go about their daily business in air that’s thick, smog that lingers or in cities where particles are clogging lungs, have failed to convince us that there is a serious issue.
What’s even more worrying is a deliberate attempt to undermine and roll back the progress that a host of governments and a raft of environmental agencies have put in place to try and stem this global crisis. There are still naysayers and US President Donald Trump is in their ranks — who believe that our industrial and societal advances have little or no effect on our natural climate and its air quality. Indeed, Trump himself is determined to eradicate the work of the US Environmental Protection Agency and its programmes. The reality too is that Americans do not know how good they have it. Fully 92 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas where fine-particulate levels exceed those of WHO’s guidelines. The misery is concentrated: Half of air pollution’s death toll was in China and India alone.
In western Europe, cities are taking up the challenge, the city councils in London, Madrid and Berlin are looking at introducing bans on diesel vehicles by 2020. That’s a radical step, yet it shows that there are environmentalists and representatives who consider the quality of the air their people breathe to be of paramount importance.
There is no easy or quick fix — and nothing can ever replace the loss of so many young lives who have needlessly died because of our collective industrialisation when profits were placed over pollution’s effects. But international treaties and the climate change accord reached in Paris last year do go a long way in ensuring that things will improve — over time.
For the accords to work, every nation must commit and play its part. That’s a long-term commitment: Longer than the single term of one US president.