There is a lot to like about living in Washington, D.C. I am lucky enough to live in a city with reliable public transport, well-kept parks and friendly neighbors. And perhaps my biggest blessing is that my city enjoys good air quality. Typing “Washington D.C.” into BreatheLife’s website reveals that air pollution in my city is 10 percent below the World Health Organization’s guidelines.
Around the world, not all urbanites can say the same thing. In fact, 92 percent of the world’s population live in places where air quality levels exceed WHO guidelines. And startlingly, air pollution – both household and ambient – caused 6.4 million deaths worldwide in 2015, with most of the burden of disease occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Taking an economic perspective, the World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimate that air-pollution-related deaths cost about $5.11 trillion in welfare losses worldwide.
Ever notice how cities can really encapsulate many of the things that make life enjoyable? Green spaces to enjoy the outdoors, access to jobs, affordable housing for all, a well-connected public transportation system, access to healthy food, schools for all children, and so on. Some cities achieve this better than others, but creating a city that works for all of its citizens can be a challenge for governments and communities alike.
Why? Let’s look at some numbers: Up to 1 billion people living in slums in the cities of the world are in need of better services; Cities consume 2/3 of the world’s energy and account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions; 66 out of 100 people will live in cities by 2050, which tells us the global population is becoming increasingly urban.
Every city is a work in progress in this sense and for organizations like the World Bank, cities offer opportunities to help people raise themselves out of poverty. With so many people concentrated geographically, it’s possible to make improvements that benefit many, and with investments across multiple sectors in cities, governments can really make an impact on the lives of their citizens.