According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 7 million people died in 2012 due to air pollution. To put that into context, it is estimated that about 3.8 million people died due to the Vietnam War that raged from 1955 to 1975, and an estimated 6 million people died during the Holocaust. Respiratory problems and cancer linked to air pollution were the biggest causes of death.
The WHO said 3.3 million deaths were linked to indoor air pollution, while 2.6 million deaths were linked to outdoor air pollution. Most of these deaths were in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region, where an estimated 6 million people died due to air pollution. Within South East Asia, residents of low and middle income countries were more likely to die from pollution.
Study should be taken with a grain of salt
It should be noted that the study only “links” deaths to air pollution, and does not claim or prove that people died directly due to pollution. Instead, a correlation was found between pollution and casualties caused by diseases that in turn can be caused by air pollution.
For deaths related to outdoor air pollution, the study found that 40 percent of people died to cardiovascular disease, while another 40 percent died due to stroke. Meanwhile, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) accounted for 11 percent of deaths while lung cancer caused 6 percent of deaths.
For deaths related to indoor air pollution, 34 percent of people suffered from a stroke, while 26 percent suffered heart disease. An additional 22 percent suffered from COPD.
It should be noted that these diseases can be caused by a wide range of factors.
Economic development comes at a cost
Asia has enjoyed a huge amount of economic success over the last decade, drawing envy from people across the world. From expanding manufacturing, to technology and financial services, many Asian countries have enjoyed a period of unprecedented economic growth.
With growth and economic development, however, the risk of air pollution rises markedly. As people grow wealthier cars become more common and produce large amounts of air pollution. At the same time, manufacturing plants, chemical production facilities, and other industrial production facilities produce tremendous amounts of pollution, as do electrical power plants and other necessities of modernity.
It should come as no surprise then that the WHO study found South East Asia and the Western Pacific, with low and middle income countries leading the way, as the primary source of causalities due to air pollution.