Poor and young suffer


Anilla Cherian in The Deccan Herald:

Flint’s declaration of financial emergency from 2010, and its demographic profile – which the New York Times editorialist Charles Blow referred to as “mostly black and disproportionately poor”- are indeed not coincidences- they are glaringly sad markers of the intersection between poverty and pollution.

The disproportionate double burden of poverty and pollution cuts across poor communities everywhere. But, what is happening in vastly poorer villages damaged as a result of their heavy dependence on polluting energy sources – where literally millions are being smothered by a toxic cauldron of indoor air pollution?

Where is the global urgency in resp-onding to the long-standing concern that household air pollution resulting from the burning of solid fuels (wood, crop wastes, charcoal, coal and dung) destroys the lives of poor women and children who spend a disproportionate amount of time in front of polluted hearths?

In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure. This finding based on a 2012 data, more than doubles previous estimates, and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

Indoor/household air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012, but the impacts of indoor air pollution were found to be staggeringly disproportionate: Low and middle income countries in South-East Asia and Western Pacific suffered the greatest burden of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution; and 50 per cent of premature deaths among children under age five was due to pneumonia caused by particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution. In poorly ventilated dwellings, indoor smoke was found to be 100 times higher than acceptable levels for small soot particles- PM 2.5.

Measuring 2.5 micrometres or less, PM 2.5 has been directly linked with causing strokes, ischaemic heart disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. Reducing PM 2.5 emissions is critically important from a human health perspective, but what is often not reflected is that one of the principal components of PM 2.5- black carbon –emitted as a result of the incomplete combustion of solid fuels is known to be a short -term climate pollutant.

What has largely not been addressed is that black carbon emissions are also directly linked to serious, adverse regional and in some cases, more localised climate change impacts including regional rainfall and weather patterns, and also most importantly in the loss of annual production levels of rice, wheat and maize. Curbing PM 2.5/black carbon emissions offers a win-win on two different fronts.

Reducing polluting energy in poor households happens to also offer short term climate change benefits. So, why has so little been done so far about a problem that affects so many? Clean energy measures such as the use of clean-burning biomass stoves, and use of clean energy cook-stoves using modern and renewable energy sources are two specific measures that have long been touted, but for equally long remain unmet.

More here.