The WHO has announced that 99% of the world breathes contaminated air, although exposure differs depending on where you live - developing nations bear the biggest brunt. In the past, air pollution was considered a problem that only impacted people in developing countries. But now, it is becoming clear that it also affects people in developed nations, the effects noted by increased respiratory and cardiovascular problems such as asthma and heart disease. It also impacts our economy by causing billions of dollars’ worth of damage yearly to buildings, crops and other natural resources due to acid rain. It has been estimated that air pollution costs the global economy about $225 billion annually. But where is air pollution rife? In which countries in 2022 are its effects most prominent?
Air Pollution & Its Impact
The primary and most responsible avenue by which air pollution reaches us all is through the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels under this banner are cars, trucks, aircrafts, ships, and oil-burning factories and plants. However, any process that comprises the combustion of wood or fossil fuels results in the particulate matter being released into the atmosphere, including home-related sources like household chemicals, stoves and ovens, tobacco products, and candles and fireplaces. Natural forms such as wildfires and volcanoes are also contributing factors. Air pollution is responsible for non-communicable diseases, which account for 72% of all deaths. To further elaborate, these deaths can be broken down into 22% of cardiovascular disease, 25% of stroke fatalities, 40% of lung cancer deaths, and over 50% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. All this information aligns with data from the WHO, which has stated that air pollution is responsible for 7 million premature deaths annually.
Which Countries have the highest levels of air pollution?
Bangladesh has the highest level of air pollution in the world, averaging a PM2.5 level of 77.10, which, while very high, is an improvement from 2018 (97.10) and 2019 (83.30). The main contributors to the country's environmental woes are air and water pollution, solid wastes, noise pollution, and groundwater contamination. Dhaka City, to date, is one of the most pollution-afflicted cities in the world. The most significant contributor to Bangladesh's air pollution is its brickmaking industry, which annually churns out 23 billion bricks. The furnaces used in the brickmaking process rely on wood or coal, creating massive amounts of smoke and dust.
Pakistan is the second most polluted country in the world, averaging a PM2.5 concentration of 59.00. In 2019 AQI (air quality index) ratings in Punjab veered between "near unhealthy" and "very unhealthy", going as high as 484. Pakistan's environmental problems stem from an increased number of vehicles on the roads, smoke emissions from brick furnaces and steel mills, large-scale deforestation, and the burning of trash. Pakistan's minister for climate change has pointed the finger at India for their country's smog. Still, Pakistani citizens blame their government for not monitoring and curtailing the crisis.
The third most polluted country in the world is India, which averages a PM2.5 concentration of 51.90. Regarding the most polluted cities in the world, India is home to 21 out of 30. Kanpur leads the way as India's most polluted, with the city's medical college admitting roughly 600 patients suffering from respiratory illness each month. India's poor pollution levels stem from various sources, including forest fires, dust storms, burning coal and wood, and vehicle emissions. So dire is the state of air quality in Delhi, India's capital region, that flight cancellations, traffic accidents, school closures, and even the turning of the white marble of the Taj Mahal yellow and green are not uncommon. India's rural areas also feel the brunt of pollution as people in these areas use wood and dung for cooking and heating and continue practising crop stubble burning.
Mongolia averages a PM2.5 concentration of 46.60, making it the fourth most polluted country in the world. The burning of coal and biomass accounts for the majority of the pollution that this country experiences. Over the last ten years, Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator, has seen an increase in respiratory infections by 270%. Children residing in the city have a 40% lower lung function than those who live in rural areas. Between 70 -90% of pregnant women who receive treatment at family health centres in Mongolia are negatively affected by air pollution. As a result, infants as young as two days are diagnosed with pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
With an average PM2.5 level of 46.50, Afghanistan is the world's fifth most polluted country. Back in 2017, it was revealed that air pollution posed a more significant threat than the war in Afghanistan. In that same year, roughly 26 000 people lost their lives due to air-pollution-induced ailments, while just under 3 500 people died due to the conflict. An estimated 80% of drinking water in Afghanistan is polluted due to low rainfall levels, irregular groundwater usage, and poor urban infrastructure. As a result, residents of this country are often afflicted by food poisoning.
The importance of a Cambridge Mask
These are but five of the most polluted cities around the world. In all instances, air pollution has played a life-threatening role. The problems we all face in combating the global climate crisis and air pollution are layered and deeply entrenched. Overnight solutions do not exist, but here at Cambridge Mask Co, we offer an immediate solution to air pollution – the Cambridge Mask. Designed to filter the air you breathe, our masks are proven to protect those who suffer from respiratory illnesses while also providing a shelf life of up to 6 months, making our masks a lot more environmentally friendly. Our ongoing collaboration with One Tree Planted also means that with your help, we're doing what we can to address the problems of deforestation. Our leaders must enact laws that will lower carbon emissions and yield positive long-term results. However, let's give ourselves and our loved ones the immediate protection that only a Cambridge Mask can provide.