European Union flags.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Air pollution is costing European economies some $1.6 trillion a year in resultant diseases and deaths, the World Health Organization revealed in a new study Tuesday at a regional meeting in Haifa.
About 600,000 premature deaths and diseases linked to air pollution are taking an economic toll worth “a staggering $1.6 trillion” annually, according to the new study, which explored data for 2010 from 53 countries in the European region, including Israel.
This amount is equivalent to nearly one-tenth of the 2013 gross domestic product of the entire European Union, the organization said.
The WHO Regional Office for Europe, in conjunction with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), published the study on the first of a three-day, high-level summit in Haifa on European- region environment and health. More than 200 representatives from European governments and non-governmental organizations have gathered there to perform a midterm review and evaluate compliance to pledges made in March 2010 during WHO’s Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Parma, Italy.
In Parma, officials from the 53 European-region governments adopted a declaration committing to reducing the adverse health impact of environmental threats in the next decade. The Parma gathering was the fifth in a line of conferences initiated as part of the European Environment and Health Process, which began in the late 1980s. Through their declaration and a “commitment to act,” the participating governments agreed to implement national programs to provide equal opportunities to each child by 2020, according to WHO.
“Curbing the health effects of air pollution pays dividends,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, following the release of the new report on Tuesday. “The evidence we have provides decision-makers across the whole of government with a compelling reason to act. If different sectors come together on this, we not only save more lives, but also achieve results that are worth astounding amounts of money.”
Deaths alone accounted for more than $1.4 trillion of the total cost, while illnesses resulting from air pollution were responsible for the remaining 10 percent, according to a WHO statement. For 10 of the 53 countries the study covered, this cost is at or above 20% of their national GDPs.
The study determined the monetary value for the deaths and diseases due to air pollution by considering the amount societies were willing to pay to avoid such deaths and diseases with necessary interventions, the organization explained. In these calculations, the study authors attached a value to each death and disease, independent of age and varying according to specific national context.
Calling air pollution “the single largest environmental health risk,” the WHO report said that more than 90% of the region’s citizens were being exposed to annual levels of outdoor fine particulate matter that were above the organization’s air quality guidelines. Such exposure was responsible for 482,000 premature deaths in 2012 from heart and respiratory diseases, blood vessel conditions, strokes and lung cancer, the report said. During that same year, indoor air pollution resulted in an additional 117,200 premature deaths – with five times more such deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
In Israel, about 2,500 people die annually as a result of exposure to air pollution, said Deputy Environmental Protection Minister Ophir Akunis.
Using the 2010 data, the WHO report estimated that the economic cost of deaths from air pollution in Israel amounted to $7.164 billion annually.
“The main source of air pollution is transportation, mainly in major city centers,” Akunis said. “Since 2011, the Environmental Protection Ministry’s Clean Air Law regulates pollutants from major sources such as transport, industry and energy in accordance with the most stringent standards. The ministry aims to use all available resources to reduce air pollution, as this means saving the lives of thousands of people, as well as billions [for] the Israeli economy.”
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