The pollution pandemic

Is it all doom and gloom...?

When Dr. Jenny Linden, an air quality scientist, attempted to measure the pollution in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, one of her instruments got clogged. The instrument was, in fact, designed for road dust in Arizona, but the dust in Ouagadougou exceeded the machine’s limit by far. It had to be sent to the United States for repair.

This article was published in the May 2015 edition of UKEdMagazine. You can view the web edition freely by clicking here.

I believe pollution is a global issue and everyone contributes immensely to the problem. Although, exposures to environmental pollution remain a great source of health risks the world over, these risks are, in the main, higher in developing countries, where lack of investment in modern technology, poverty, and weak environmental laws contribute to causing high pollution levels. Undoubtedly, environmental pollution affects a number of health problems in our world today. Sanitation and hygiene, water pollution, indoor air pollution, outdoor pollution, and contact with chemicals, both indoor and outdoor, are all important risk factors. Though it may be challenging to measure, accurately, the health effects of pollution, figures available prove that between developed and the developing world, between the rich and poor, the developing nations – the poor – suffer these health risks.

Research has it that about 8 to 9% of the world’s total disease challenge may be linked to pollution, but largely, in developing countries. Even in developed countries, environmental pollution continues to exist most especially in the poorer communities. Environmental pollution can be defined as the presence of a substance, in the environment, which is potentially damaging to either the environment or human health. So pollutants take many forms. They include not only chemicals, but organisms and biological materials, and energy in all its forms. These pollutants are, in fact, innumerable, and this is what makes the issue more threatening. Some 30,000 chemicals are used today, any one of which may be released into the environment during usage or processing.

The Global Fate

It is somewhat challenging to estimate the contribution of environmental pollution to the problem of disease and health or make reliable assessments of the distribution of mortality linked to pollution. In many developing countries, monitoring of diseases, reporting of mortality, environmental and population surveillance are unsuccessfully dealt with, because of the general state of poor routine monitoring and reporting. However, it is these developing countries that suffer the health risks from environmental pollution. The World Health Organisation estimates that, overall, cardiovascular diseases account for between 19% of total deaths worldwide. Cancer, an estimated 12%, acute respiratory diseases 8.1%, unintentional injuries 5.7%, diarrhoeal diseases, approximately 5.8%, chronic respiratory diseases, 5.7% and perinatal conditions 6.2%. Whilst these figures estimate the global challenge of disease, and are not linked with any health causes, they are a major help in the provision of comparable data.

Smith et al, attempted to assess the environmental contribution to the global disease challenge, using the WHO’s data. The attempt reports that environmental factors account for between 25% and 33% of the world’s total diseases, but with an uneven share of this falling on children under the age of 5. Diarrhoeal diseases are attributed to the environment. Malaria, 88%, and acute respiratory illness, 60% are seen as outcomes for which the environment is noticeably influential. Poor water and sanitation are estimated to be responsible for about 5.3% of deaths around the globe, whereas, air pollution contributes 1.1% and 0.5% of total deaths. Environmental factors are responsible for 4% of the global challenge of disease. Problems of unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene account for an estimated 6.6% of disability-adjusted life years in Africa and 3.6% in south-east Asia, compared to 0.4% in Europe. Risks related to environmental pollution in developing countries are 15-35 or more times greater than in developed countries.

Doom and Gloom?

Many of these risks and health effects can be avoided easily. The solution does not lie in cutting-edge technology or even expensive drugs. Instead, it lies in the need for preventive measures to reduce the emission of pollutants into the environment, first of all, and this is largely attainable with existing practical knowledge and ability. In many of the richer nations, it has been implemented. The question, then is, what is still allowing environmental pollution to have damaging effects on developing countries? Well, is not the many failures in science and technology, but the lack of political will and economic liberation. Are we begging for deliverance to come for those at the mercy of environmental pollution?

Esther Wiredu is an English teacher in Ghana, and is passionate about helping students acquire creative writing skills. She writes and edits professional/ academic literature. Esther will write just about anything. Currently, she is the managing editor of her school’s newspaper, The Early Bird. Follow her on Twitter at @EstherWiredu.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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