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.
I recently visited Beijing to participate in Pollution Management and Environmental Health Business Week. Beijing is an extremely vibrant city. I was impressed by the rapid transit network, which took me from modern shopping in Wangfujing to historic wonders of the Forbidden City and Liulichang Street.
During my visit, I also experienced the poor air quality that can plague Beijing, especially during the winter. Indeed, a couple of days after I left, the Beijing city government issued a red alert for hazardous air quality and advised residents to stay indoors for three days.
Solutions to Pollution
A visitor to Beijing, Mr. Xiao, a forestry project manager from a north-western providence of China, highlighted that the Beijing authorities are doing a lot to reduce pollution. While visiting Beijing he had noticed some of the beneficial government controls, like regulating emissions from road vehicles and covering some drains to improve dust control.
The World Bank supports governments in low- and middle-income countries to reduce air pollution. For example, the Bank committed US$1 billion to help China improve air quality by reducing emissions of specific air pollutants from industrial, transport and rural sources in the province of Hebei, and by increasing energy efficiency and clean energy through innovative financing in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region (also known as Jing-Jin-Ji region) that covers the capital area and neighboring provinces. Additionally, the Pollution Management and Environmental Health program assists policy makers in China and across the world to improve air quality management in their cities.
Cities are growing and by 2050, 66 out of 100 people will live in urban areas. My #Loop4Dev video is inspired by my luck to live in a city with fresh air and my hope that current and future urbanites can all enjoy fresh air in their home towns. #Loop4Dev is the World Bank’s cities boomerang challenge – to raise awareness on how cities can be a major driver in ending poverty.