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Air pollution: Women are the worst sufferers

Published : Friday, 15 March, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 546



According to the recently-published UN Environment's sixth Global Environment Outlook 2019 report, Bangladesh is one of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world and its capital Dhaka's air has become one of the most polluted. The report identified air pollution as a cause of six-seven million early deaths annually. The Environmental Assembly, UN Environment's sixth Global Environment Outlook (2019) calls on decision makers to take immediate action to address pressing environmental issues to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as other Internationally Agreed Environment Goals, such as the Paris Agreement.

Air pollution is the main environmental contributor to the global burden of diseases, leading to between six million and seven million premature deaths and welfare losses estimated at US$5 trillion annually. Air pollution exposure, especially to fine particulate matter, is highest for urban residents in some countries with rapid urbanization trends and for approximately three billion people who depend on burning fuels such as wood, coal, crop residue, dung and kerosene for cooking, heating and lighting. The elderly, very young, ill and poor are more susceptible to the impact of air pollution.

The sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6), focusing on the theme "healthy planet, healthy people", aims to help policymakers and all of society achieve the environmental dimension of the Sustainable Development Goals, internationally agreed environmental goals and the multilateral environmental agreements. Mainstreaming environmental considerations into social and economic decisions at all levels is of vital importance. A healthy environment is the best foundation for economic prosperity, human health and well?being. Environmental degradation, which ranges from serious to irreversible, has had a negative impact on human health, the report concludes.

In Bangladesh, according to World Health Organization (WHO), vehicular air pollution is a major cause of respiratory distress in urban Bangladesh. An estimated 15, 000 deaths, as well as several million cases of pulmonary, respiratory and neurological illness are attributed to poor air quality.
Thousands of people only in Dhaka are dying prematurely because of air pollution.  Moreover, we, the people of South Asian countries including Bangladesh are dying unnecessarily, and living helplessly due to air pollution, which is both preventable and controllable. So we must have commitment to save the lives of ourselves and our next generations from air pollution. The United Nations has given emphasize also in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for better health and safer environment reducing air pollutants.

WHO further mentioned that ensuring universal access to clean fuel and technologies is a target of the Sustainable Development Goal on energy. If this target is met it could prevent millions of deaths and improve the health and well-being of the billions of people relying on polluting fuels and technologies for cooking, heating and lighting.

More research on preventing and controlling air pollution is a must through collaborative, integrated, regional efforts. In terms of countries of Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) informs about air pollution that dry season haze covers large regions.

So, considering the regional cooperation, experts recommended regional monitoring network. Theoretical framework of the synthesized air pollution prevention and mitigation system should be through formation mechanism of air pollution complex. In terms of mitigation, ICIMOD recommended reducing emission through emissions control technology, switching to cleaner technology, changing activity patterns, changing large scale policies--need to create the right conditions for mitigation to be successful.

In fact, as part of collaboration and monitoring, we need to be able to demonstrate clearly and unambiguously whether the projects on air pollution prevention are successful, or whether it fell short in some areas.

WHO estimates, around three billion people cook and heat their homes using solid fuels (i.e. wood, charcoal, coal, dung, crop wastes) on open fires or traditional stoves. Such inefficient cooking and heating practices produce high levels of household/ indoor air pollution, which includes a range of health damaging pollutants such as fine particles and carbon monoxide. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children. According to WHO, 4.3 million people a year die from the exposure to household air pollution in developing countries. Globally, reliance on solid fuels has emerged as one of the ten most important threats to public health. Indoor air pollution disproportionately affects women and children who spend the most time near the domestic hearth.

However, it is globally recognized that women are the worst sufferers due to especially indoor air pollution. Regarding women's vulnerability due to air pollution, while contacted, Anita Karki, Gender and Energy Analyst of ICIMOD-Nepal said, "Indisputably, the poorest sections of the society are the ones relying on biomass fuel for basic household needs like cooking, heating and lighting purposes. Despite the proved co-benefits of improved cook stoves in terms of clean air and improved health, the poor households cannot afford improved cook-stoves and women have less decision making power within the households in this regard. Indoor air pollution is not only an environmental issue, but also it is women's human rights issue. As it is about their rights to clean air, health and quality of life, it should be addressed properly with rights-based approach," Anita opined.

WHO encourages and supports the assessment of the national burden of disease due to indoor air pollution, and cost-effectiveness or cost-benefit analyses of interventions.

The role of media and peoples' participation are equally important to make awareness and bring about an improvement in the air quality. So, the government, and the stakeholders should work collectively and also involve the citizens to improve the air quality and reduce pollution. A decision to work according to timelines and with synergy between various organizations need to take through different plans and projects.  Both short and long term action plan require formulating to tackle the focus areas: agriculture, construction waste, demolition waste and vehicular pollution. Air quality monitoring stations should be installed and system of pollution checking must be strengthened.  

Air pollution and human-induced climate change is having a profound impact on our health. Millions of people globally are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Some 3.7 million deaths globally are attributed to outdoor air pollution.

The emission control system must be present in the automobiles. The wastes must be removed and recycled in the industrial plants and refineries. There are many factors, which regulate the air pollution. It states that there should always be a distance between the industrial and residential area. The chimneys must be tall in size so that the emissions must be released higher up in the environment. The filters and precipitators must be used in the chimneys.

Therefore, according to ICIMOD, the role of print, electronic and social media is very important to prevent and control air pollution through disseminating necessary, life-saving information among the public, policy makers, researchers, environment activists and all the people of the world. So, let us prevent and control air pollution to live a healthy and better life.

Parvez Babul is a journalist, poet and author

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