We need air to live, but air can also kill us. If we want to live, we need to inhale fresh air through preventing polluted air or air pollution. Air pollution is a silent killer. Men, women and children all are innocent sufferers due to air pollution. And women are the worst sufferers. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012 around seven million people died - one in eight of total global deaths - as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles the previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world's largest single environmental health risk. Preventing or reducing air pollution could save millions of lives.
After analyzing the risk factors and taking into account revisions in methodology, WHO estimates indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves. In the case of outdoor air pollution, WHO estimates there were 3.7 million deaths in 2012 from urban and rural sources worldwide.
Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly. Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.
Experts observed that the risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes. The evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.
As the climate changes, unhealthy air pollution getting worse. This puts many of us at risk for irritated eyes, noses, and lungs. But it is particularly dangerous for people with respiratory and eye diseases (e.g. asthma, cataract). Air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as illegal brick kilns-burning of fire wood, transport, energy, waste management and industry. In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health care cost savings as well as climate gains.
In Bangladesh, illegal brick kilns are adding to air pollution and deforestation that ultimately cause environmental degradation. This is indirect violation of the Brick Making and Kiln Establishment (Control) Act - 2013, which came into effect in 2014. While kilns owners make hay flouting the law, the burning of firewood poses health risks for humans as air pollution increases and it speeds up deforestation. We fail to understand precisely why the relevant authorities--even being human beings--are silent? And why don't they stop these immediately taking the worst impact of air pollution into account seriously for the greater interest to save millions of lives?
Stakeholders of health and environment sectors have a unique role in translating scientific evidence on air pollution into policies that can deliver impact and improvements to save valuable lives of all.
In this regard, the Nepal-based intergovernmental organization International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) informed that over recent decades, the countries of Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, China, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have been affected by rising emissions of air pollutants from urban, industrial, and rural sources. It has expressed concerns about deteriorating air quality, impacts on health and visibility, changes in atmospheric heating and cooling, changes in cloud microphysics and in the strength and timing of the monsoon.
While contacted, Arnico K Panday, Senior Atmospheric Scientist of ICIMOD said, "The atmosphere ignores international boundaries and pollutants cross even where people and goods are stopped. Emissions from one country can have impacts in other countries." There are still gaps in our understanding of the changes taking place in the region's atmosphere. It includes our understanding of socio-economic drivers of emissions, the chemical and physical processes taking place in the atmosphere, and the most effectiveness ways to implement various mitigating activities, Arnico added.
Pollution typically worsens in the winter seasons as the cooling of temperatures combines with pollution to cover the globe in smog. In accord with the Air Quality Index of WHO, a measure of pollutants in the air, has hit dangerous levels already especially in many countries like Bangladesh.
Risks factors of air pollution are greater than expected. Breakdown by diseases due to air pollution: Ischemic heart disease 40 per cent, stroke 40 per cent, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 11 per cent, lung cancer 6 per cent, and acute lower respiratory infections in children 3 per cent. Moreover, air pollution causes deaths of millions!
Ultimate impacts of air pollution: Suffering from the lungs and heart diseases, absenteeism, reduced capacity for physical exertion, unable to work, loss of job/ income, disability, poor quality of life, need to take multiple drugs/ oxygen with high cost, frequent hospital visits including admission, and totally unexpected and unacceptable premature death!
Deteriorating air quality in the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) region and the resulting impacts requires urgent attention from governments, policy makers, scientists, stakeholders and the public. Atmospheric issues are often neglected at policy making and local levels. Considering the grave situation of air pollution, ICIMOD has placed greater emphasis on improving knowledge and enhancing the capacity of partners in the regional member countries. ICIMOD recommended increasing media persons'/ journalists' understanding of air pollution sources, atmospheric processes, impacts, mitigation options, policy options, and trans-boundary issues.
The health experts observed that we are living in like a gas chamber due to air pollution. A comprehensive time-bound action plan is a must to fight against air pollution, which is a neglected silent killer of millions of people. Holistic approach of all the stakeholders including health, and environment ministry, brick kilns owners, transport department/ authorities, law enforcing agencies, city corporations, civil society organizations/ NGOs, educational institutions, health, and law professionals, civil surgeons, and others is urgently needed to save our lives. And to let our next generations live through combating the menace of air pollution.
In terms of involvement of media, to work through coordinated and comprehensive efforts--we must involve media (e.g. print, electronic, social media) to create awareness in broader aspect locally, nationally, regionally and globally. This is because media is very helpful to disseminate necessary information, demand accountability of policymakers and implementers. Media importantly help sharing the research-findings of past, present and future impacts of air pollution in the lives and livelihoods of millions of people especially developing countries including Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. Journalists must work soon on trans-boundary air pollution issues.
In reality, media plays supportive roles to identify the useful tools for present and long-term course of action for the future to prevent air pollution. Media recognize success and failure, strength, weakness, challenges, and opportunities of initiatives/ projects that we implement through public or private sectors. Media encourage involvement of women, disadvantaged, and the sufferers to fight against air pollution, climate change and environmental degradation as well. Media should also rightly address and focus air pollution issues for the greater interest to save millions of lives in the globe.
Above all, air pollution does not know any border. So, let us break silence, and talk about this silent killer. Now, actions should begin today, before we die due to air pollution.
Parvez Babul is a journalist, columnist, and an author. Email: [email protected]