Air pollution is blamed for 180,000 extra deaths in tropical cities, according to a new study!

According to a study, a rapid rise in emerging air pollution caused approximately 180,000 avoidable deaths in fast-growing tropical cities over 14 years.

Using space-based observations from instrumentation onboard NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) satellites from 2005 to 2018, a multinational team of scientists attempted to address data gaps in air quality for 46* prospective megacities in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

The study, which was published today in Science Advances, shows that air quality is rapidly deteriorating and that urban exposure to harmful air contaminants is increasing. The authors discovered significant annual increases in pollutants directly hazardous to health of up to 14 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and up to 8% for fine particles (PM2.5) across all cities, as well as significant annual increases in PM2.5 precursors of up to 12 percent for ammonia and up to 11 percent for reactive volatile organic compounds.

The researchers blamed growing industry and household sources like road traffic, garbage burning, and widespread use of charcoal and fuelwood for the rapid decline in air quality.

“Open burning of biomass for land clearance and agricultural waste disposal has overwhelmingly dominated air pollution in the tropics in the past,” said lead author Dr Karn Vohra (UCL Geography), who performed the work while a PhD student at the University of Birmingham. Our research implies that these cities are entering a new era of air pollution, with some seeing rates of degradation in a year that other cities see in a decade.”

The researchers also discovered to 4-fold increases in urban population exposure to air pollution in 40 of the 46 cities for NO2 and 33 of the 46 cities for PM over the study period, due to a combination of population growth and rapid degradation in air quality.

According to the study, the number of persons dying prematurely as a result of air pollution increased the most in cities in South Asia, particularly Dhaka, Bangladesh (which has a population of 24,000 people) and Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, Surat, Pune, and Ahmedabad in India (totalling 100,000 people).

According to the researchers, while the number of deaths in African tropical cities is currently lower as a result of recent improvements in healthcare across the continent, which has resulted in a decrease in overall premature mortality, the worst effects of air pollution on health will most likely occur in the coming decades.

“We continue to move air pollution from one location to the next, rather than learning from past mistakes and ensuring fast industrialisation and economic development do not impair public health,” said study co-author Dr Eloise Marais (UCL Geography). We hope that our findings would encourage tropical countries to take precautionary measures.”

Dr. Vohra received a Global Challenges PhD Studentship from the University of Birmingham, while Dr. Marais received a NERC/EPSRC grant.

*Among the cities examined in the study are:

  • Africa – Abidjan, Abuja, Addis Ababa, Antananarivo, Bamako, Blantyre, Conakry, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Ibadan, Kaduna, Kampala, Kano, Khartoum, Kigali, Kinshasa, Lagos, Lilongwe, Luanda, Lubumbashi, Lusaka, Mombasa, N’Djamena, Nairobi, Niamey, Ouagadougou.
  • South Asia – Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Chittagong, Dhaka, Hyderabad, Karachi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Surat.
  • Southeast Asia – Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Manila, Phnom Penh, Yangon.
  • Middle East – Riyadh, Sana’a.

Written by IOI

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