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Air pollution

Let's come clean about dirty cooking

Anita Marangoly George's picture
Photo by Rodney Rascona / Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

Really – let’s.

It’s a fact: Indoor air pollution from cooking with solid fuels including wood, charcoal, coal, animal dung, and crop waste in open fires and traditional stoves is the fourth leading cause of death in the world, after heart and lung disease and respiratory infection.

Nearly 2.9 billion people, a majority of whom are women, still cook with dirty, smoke and soot-producing cookstoves and solid fuels. That’s more people using these dangerous appliances than the entire populations of India and China put together.

This has to change. And change is happening as I heard from the various discussions that took place in Accra, Ghana at the Clean Cooking Forum 2015 last week.  Hearing the Minister of Petroleum of Ghana and the Deputy Minister for Gender and Development, I realize that the ambition to provide clean cookstoves and cleaner fuels to the households who need it most is definitely there. But transforming ambition into reality is a challenge. This is true not just in Ghana but in many other parts of the world.    

I have been thinking a lot about this lately, especially as we come up on the climate change conference (COP21) in Paris, where world leaders will gather to reach a universal agreement on mitigating the effects of climate change. Adopting clean energy sources is key to reach that goal. To that end, the UN’s sustainable energy goal (SDG7) that aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all also aims for bringing clean cooking solutions to the 2.9 billion who do not have it today.

More than dust in Delhi

Mark Roberts's picture
smog in delhi
The smog over Delhi. Photo credit: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier / Creative Commons

Urbanization provides the countries of South Asia with the opportunity to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations. But to reap the benefits of urbanization, nations must address the challenges it poses. Growing urban populations put pressure on a city’s infrastructure; they increase the demand for basic services, land and housing, and they add stress to the environment.
Of all these congestion forces, one of the most serious for health and human welfare is ambient air pollution from vehicle emissions and the burning of fossil fuels by industry and households, according to the World Bank report, Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability.”
Particularly harmful are high concentrations of fine particulate matter, especially that of 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5). They can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the likelihood of asthma, lung cancer, severe respiratory illness, and heart disease.
Data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2014 shows Delhi to have the most polluted air of any city in the world, with an annual mean concentration of PM2.5 of 152.6 μg/m3 . That is more than 15 times greater than the WHO’s guideline value and high enough to make Beijing’s air—known for its bad quality—look comparatively clean.

But Delhi is far from unique among South Asia’s cities.

Five reasons to act now to #endpollution

Paula Caballero's picture
Did you know that about 3.7 million people worldwide died in 2012 from diseases related to ambient air pollution? That is nearly the population of the city of Los Angeles expiring every year from preventable causes.

When you combine death-by-smog with deaths related to exposure to dirty indoor air, contaminated land and unsafe water, the grand total of deaths from all pollution sources climbs to almost 9 million deaths each year worldwide. That’s more than 1 in 7 deaths and makes pollution deadlier than malnutrition.
Photo via Shutterstock

This fact deserves to be better known, as there are ready solutions. Inaction is not an option.


British Columbia’s carbon tax shift: An environmental and economic success

Stewart Elgie's picture

British Columbia. Brian Fagan/Flickr Creative Commons

By Stewart Elgie, Professor of Law & Economics at University of Ottawa and Chair of Sustainable Prosperity; Ross Beaty, Chairman of Pan American Silver Corp. and Alterra Power; and Richard Lipsey, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Simon Fraser University.


We often hear claims that a carbon tax would destroy jobs and growth. Yet the evidence from a Canadian province that actually passed such a tax – British Columbia – tells a very different story.

The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that B.C.’s policy has been a real environmental and economic success after six years. Far from a “job killer,” it is a world-leading example of how to tackle one of the greatest global challenges of our time: building an economy that will prosper in a carbon constrained world.

Tackling Air Pollution in Dhaka

Shiro Nakata's picture
The Electrochemical Resarch Labaratory at the University of Dhaka

The air quality of Bangladesh’s capital - Dhaka - has dipped considerably in the last 10 years or so as the economy boomed, more factories were set up and the number of cars on the roads increased day by day. Air quality in Dhaka is quickly becoming one of the major health concerns for its residents; reliable and sophisticated data are thus urgently needed to help address this.
A proposal to establish a research center with modern and reliable laboratories for monitoring atmospheric pollutants in Dhaka, submitted by the Center of Advanced Research in Science (CARS) in University of Dhaka, received a research grant of about BDT 34.5 million (about US$ 442,000) from the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP). The sub-project titled: “Establishing an Air Quality Monitoring Center” is headed by Dr. Shahid Akhtar Hossain, a professor of the Department of Soil, Water and Environment.

Diesel: Emissions, Health, and Climate Impacts

Sameer Akbar's picture
Also available in: العربيةEspañol | Français

Trucks idling in traffic in Ghana. Jonathan Ernst/World Bank

Playing charades with my nine-year-old over the weekend, I was surprised when he gave black smoke as a clue for diesel. When I was his age, I probably would have given bus or truck as a clue.

The word diesel derives from the inventor Rudolph Diesel, who developed a heavy-duty engine in Germany in the late 1800s. Diesel fuel is any fuel used in diesel engines. The combustion of diesel fuel provides the power to move heavy-duty vehicles, such as buses and trucks. It also results in emissions of fine particles, often in the form of black smoke, along with a number of other chemical compounds.

In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the emissions from diesel combustion to be carcinogenic. Last month, the WHO released data showing that more than 7 million deaths are caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution. The black smoke from diesel engines is a part of outdoor air pollution contributed by buses and trucks, as my son would tell me after we finished our game.

What he does not know as yet is that a study by a team of international scientists in 2013 noted that diesel smoke consists primarily of black carbon, which has a strong global warming impact on the climate; nearly 3,300 time more than that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period.

The one simple and clear message from the triangulation of current scientific evidence is that reducing diesel emissions provides health and climate benefits.

A Global Check-up: We Need Safer and Cleaner Mobility

Marc Shotten's picture
Many years ago in Bangkok, on my first World Bank mission, I made an error in judgment by taking a Tuk-Tuk, the ubiquitous three-wheeled "golf cart" taxi, in order to experience local transit patterns in a more intimate manner. At least that's how I retroactively justified what was nearly a fatal decision as the driver weaved in-between two buses which narrowly avoided squashing the tiny vehicle. What struck me more than anything at that time were the overall chaos of the transit system and the lack of safe mobility, unfortunately both quite common in a majority of low and middle-income countries which shoulder 90% of the world's road crashes.

In this context, and to better assist countries achieve safer and cleaner mobility, the World Bank,  in partnership with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), has issued a new report: Transport for Health: The Global Burden of Disease from Motorized Road Transport. The IHME is the home of the Global Burden of Disease study, widely considered among the preeminent global health metrics publications.

The Transport for Health report, for the first time, quantifies the global health loss from injuries and air pollution that can be attributed to motorized road transport. The results are stark and call for immediate action: deaths from road transport exceed those from HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria; together, road injuries and pollution from vehicles contribute to six of the top 10 causes of death globally. Moreover, road injuries are among the top-10 causes of death among women of childbearing age and the fourth leading cause among women aged 15-29.

When Breathing Kills

Sameer Akbar's picture

 Curt Carnemark/World Bank

A good friend of mine recently returned from her mother’s funeral in Germany. She had died of lung cancer after spending the last eight years of her life in a slum in New Delhi where she taught orphaned children.

I can’t help but wonder if breathing the dirty indoor and outdoor pollution in New Delhi contributed to her cancer. My friend has the same question.

In new estimates released March 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012, about 7 million people died - one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution. Indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in households that cook over coal, wood and biomass stoves. Outdoor air pollution was linked to 3.7 million deaths from urban and rural sources worldwide. (As many people are exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together.)

South and East Asia had the largest number of deaths linked to indoor air pollution.

The WHO finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s single largest environmental health risk. In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. In the case of both indoor and outdoor air pollution related deaths, 6 percent were attributed to cancer.

Thinking that my friend’s mother perished as result of pollution may not be so far-fetched.

Transforming Transportation for More Inclusive, Prosperous Cities

Jose Luis Irigoyen's picture
Also available in: Español | Français | 中文

 UNFCCC/FlickrLeaders in the transport, development, and for the first time, business sectors will convene for Transforming Transportation this week in Washington, DC.

Cities are the world’s engines of economic growth. Yet many have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring safe and affordable access to jobs, education, and healthcare for its citizens—in part because their transport systems are inadequate and unsustainable. This weakness is visible in packed slums and painful commutes in cities that fail to provide affordable transport options.

Inadequate transport comes with other costs related to air quality and safety. Beijing, China, battles dangerous levels of air pollution due in large part to motor vehicle emissions. Major Indian metropolises like Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai are growing out instead of up, contributing to increased travel distances and an estimated 550 deaths every day from traffic accidents. And across the globe, cities are the locus of up to 70 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions driving climate change.

Poor transport systems not only hinder the public health and economic growth of cities, they can spur civil unrest. More than 100,000 protestors, for example, gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on one night in June 2013 to express a wide range of grievances, including transportation fare hikes, poor public services despite a high tax burden, and other urban issues.

But in these challenges lie significant opportunities – particularly for the business and transport sectors at the city level.

Soot is Soot, No Matter the Circumstance!

Sameer Akbar's picture

 Curt Carnemark/World Bank

Last week, the Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom reported that snow in the Himalayas was melting because of religious activity on the Indian subcontinent. The report, based on research by American and Indian scientists, found that burning of wood for cremations and incense sticks for religious ceremonies and marriages leads to emissions of black carbon and other compounds. This, in turn, accelerates the melting of ice and snow-covered surfaces.

There is a growing body of research looking at how black carbon is accelerating snow and glacial melting. A scientific paper published in India early this year associated forest fires and other biomass burning to the accelerated melting of one of the Himalayan glaciers. Scientists have even implicated black carbon emission from increased industrial activity in Europe for the retreat of glaciers in the Alps in the mid-19th century.