Air and water pollution and their health impacts Essay Example

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Air and water pollution and their health impacts


According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, indoor solid fuel smoke exposure kills nearly 100 children word wide in an hour (WHO HELI, 2004). Environmental factors – particularly air and water pollution – are significant causes of disability, disease, and death throughout the world, and more importantly in the developing nations. The scenario is so grim that 25% of all diseases and death – mostly affecting vulnerable and the poor – in the world are attributed to environmental hazards. The percentage reaches a dismal 35% in sub-Saharan Africa, which is still developing (Smith, Corvalán and Kjellstrom, 2009).

In the developing countries, it is the unsustainable and unorganized pattern of development that contributes to air pollution in a major way. The stark figures speak up for themselves. Nearly 1.7 million deaths occur annually on account of diarrhoeal diseases contracted due use of unsafe water, poor hygiene and poor sanitation; and as many as 1.6 million die on account of respiratory diseases due to solid fuels emitting toxic indoor smoke. Vehicles and industrial production units, on the other hand, account for nearly 800 000 deaths annually due to urban air pollution (WHO Report 2002).

Recently scientists, activists, and Organisation s studying air pollution have shifted their focus of research to indoor air pollution as against outdoor air pollution since the former exposes a chunk of population to fatal fumes. Epidemiologically this is has been considered as more threatening as indoor pollutants are linked to greater cardiovascular and respiratory mortality and morbidity (Brunekreef and Holgate, 2002).

International organizations such as United Nations have consistently listed Beijing in China as one having worst air quality in the world (United Nations Report, 2011). Beijing air pollution comes mainly from vehicle emissions, particularly diesel, and there is particulate matter, ozone, and other contaminates liberally moving around in Beijing air. According to Dawn Fotopulos (2011), associate professor at the The King’s College, New York, Beijing is ten times dirtier than that of Los Angeles on any given day.

In terms of carbon pollution, another UN-backed study reveals that Bangkok beats London in emissions, which stands at 5.9 tons per capita. These are greenhouse gases for which electricity generation and transport are the main sources. What compounds air pollution in Bangkok is millions of vehicles (5.61 million in 2007) on its inadequate road network; dust problems on which coupled with bad air quality wreak havoc with respiratory systems. The level is all the time higher with the acceptable standards (The Bangkok State of Environment Report 2003).

If not too close, but nearly at the top of world’s most polluted cities is the Mexican city, which grapples with the twin problems of pollution within the city and at the Mexican-United States border. The problems gets compounded since Mexico being on a plateau, and absence of winds, trapped polluted air finds no escape. This can also be partly attributed to a layer of hot air lurking all the time over Mexico. Burning industrial waste and fires are chiefly responsible for this scenario (Patricia, 2009).

One year before Olympics, Beijing decided to invest more than $3 billion in pollution control. Beijing’s efforts to control pollution began way back in 1998 and the budget allocation for this increased every year thereafter. Beijing’s pollution comes mainly from its thriving economy, which makes it all the more difficult to control pollution since it can’t afford to reduce its economic pace.

Bangkok, on the other hand, launched a campaign that envisioning a 15 percent cut in emissions by 2012. It plans to promote renewable energy, expand parklands, improve energy efficiency and expand mass transit.

Mexico, even though cupped in a challenging topography, Mexican Government has also pressed for a need to improve its air quality, this suggested a number of measures like reducing gasoline’s sulphur content, make catalytic converters mandatory on new vehicles, and institute newer anti-pollution policies. The policies have begun to show results but still far away from being optimum.

The best way to prevent air and water pollution is to not let the causes come into effect in the first place. For example, Mexican Government’s decision of mandating use of catalytic converters in new vehicles and reduction of sulphur content in gasoline is a permanent process, which can be expected to reduce emissions to some extent; the best pollution control strategy now is the one that nips the root in the bud. Beijing’s anti-pollution seriousness is laudable but the process of pollution control and creation would get almost balanced as long as the China keeps burning coal for energy. Alternative means of mass energy production, like solar energy, can help the country control pollution to a large extent. That way the paradigm of development and economic progress would not be carried out at the expense of health of its people, as much is the case with coal burning.


In conclusion, it can be said that deaths and disability due to air and water pollution have attained alarming proportions both in the developed and the developing world. While the developed world has seen air pollution going up on account of mass urbanization of cities, the developing world seems to be paying the price of unorganized development activity and a zest to gain economic independence. The race to develop has gained such a fatal momentum that however effective measures are taken to control pollution; everything seems to be small as against the rapidity with which the world is letting this monster out in the open. As a result of this more thought and concerted effort is needed to tackle this problem before it is too late.


World Health Organisation , Tools for Effective Decision-Making, The WHO-UNEP Health and Environment Linkages Initiative (HELI), Review of Initial Findings, 2004, p. 6.

Smith K R, Corvalán C, Kjellstrom T 1999, How much global ill health is attributable to environmental factors? Epidemiology, 10 (5): 573-84.

The World Health Report 2002: reducing risks, promoting healthy life. Geneva, World Health Organisation , 2002.

Brunekreef B, Holgate S T 2002, Air Pollution and Health. Lancet, 360:1233–42.

Dawn Fotopulos, 2011, Beijing: Land of pollution? Retrieved on August 7, 2011, Available from

Beijing air pollution off the charts, US says, 2011,Retrieved on August 7, 2011, Available from

The Bangkok State of Environment Report 2003, BMA,Retrieved on August 7, 2011, Available from

Michaels P A 2009, Green Nature,Retrieved on August 7, 2011, Available from