What kills more people than AIDS and malaria combined? Air pollution

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The silent killer (except for all the coughing)

A recent study by the World Health Organization provides a good dose of "good news, bad news". Compared to 20 years ago, there are fewer deaths from infectious diseases, maternal and child illness, and malnutrition. But they also found that air pollution is a huge killer, probably bigger than we suspected. Yet it isn't really a media-friendly cause célèbre...

© Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection, ca. 1940-1950, AIS.1978.22, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh.

TreeHugger alumnus Mat McDermott has a great article about it. He writes:

[A]ir pollution kills more people around the world every year than are killed by AIDS and malaria, combined. Where's the outrage?

Looking at stats from 2010, the report found that 3.5 million deaths a year are caused by indoor air pollution, with 3.3 million dead from outdoor air pollution. The total amount is less than the sum of the two figures, the report notes, as there are probably half a million deaths that have been caused by a combination of both factors.

No matter the exact total, better measurements mean we have a significant increase from previous figures for air pollution deaths, which last tallied 3.2 million deaths from air pollution from both sources combined. (source)

So air pollution kills twice as many people as we previously thought, and much more than AIDS (1.8 million) and malaria (655k). Why do we so rarely hear about it?

© Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection, ca. 1940-1950, AIS.1978.22, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh.

The good news is that the ways to clean up the air are known. A lot of Western countries have made huge progress (they still have a lot of work to do, but compare the air quality with what is was early in the 20th century, and you'll see what I mean) and this expertise can be transferred. No need to re-invent the wheel. The bad news is that the places more affected by air pollution are generally rather poor developing countries, and resources are stretched very thin. That's why I believe that the moral thing to do is provide more help in that area. Philanthropic and international aid could refocus some of their attention to combatting air pollution, because it affects and kills so many people -- it deserves a higher priority than it has received so far, even if it doesn't give you the news footage that infectious diseases do.

For more of these photos showing the air quality in Pittsburgh in the 1940s, check out this slideshow.

Via WHO, Motherboard

See also: Think Air Quality Regulations Don't Matter? Look at Pittsburgh in the 1940s!

Tags: Air Pollution | Air Quality