Air Pollution in Bangladesh
Indoor and outdoor air pollution in Bangladesh is a growing issue. As a global issue, estimates from the World Health Organization indicate that air pollution causes 7 million deaths annually. Unsurprisingly, low and middle-income countries like Bangladesh, the most polluted country in 2020, take the hardest hit. Research links poor air quality to strokes, heart disease, cancers and many other serious illnesses. For these reasons, clean air is a critical component in ending the cycle of poverty.

Air Pollution in Low-Income Communities

Low-income households all over the world tend to rely on biomass for fuel as it stands as a significantly cheaper option in comparison to cleaner fuels such as kerosene and natural gas. Bangladesh’s natural gas prices increased by 32.8% in 2019, the largest increase in the history of the country. When families in Bangladesh opt for cheaper fuels for heat and cooking, these fuels release more pollutants into homes than cleaner, more expensive fuels do. Many families in Bangladesh with a per capita income of less than $1 per day have a particulate matter concentration that varies from 410 microg/m3 to 202 microg/m3. These concerning numbers are partly due to families’ dependence on these fuels.

In Bangladesh, there are 30,000 industries, 6,000 of which are large industries. Larger pollution-producing industries often move to low-income areas to take advantage of fewer environmental regulations. Impoverished neighborhoods are also less likely to receive investments in urban greening, the reservation of land for natural environments, which can improve pollution levels in the air. Furthermore, lower-income communities are more likely to be positioned near major roads and receive underinvestment in environmentally-friendly public transit. Both of these factors add to transportation pollution in the neighborhoods.

Air Pollution’s Impact on Health

The presence of air pollution can cause health concerns, such as calcification in arteries, and can also increase the risk of breast cancer. In poverty-stricken areas, it is often difficult to get medical help because of the out-of-pocket costs of doctor’s visits and transportation. Poor air quality led to 173,500 deaths in Bangladesh in 2019, 50,000 more deaths than in 2017.

Jobs are necessary for individuals in poverty to provide for themselves and their families. People suffering from air pollution-induced illnesses are more likely to quit working because they are not physically capable of manual labor. Family members of the affected persons may also have to quit their jobs or stop attending school in order to take care of their relatives. Without these sources of income and further education, it could be difficult for families in Bangladesh to escape generational poverty.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) began reducing pollutants in Bangladesh in 2012. The organization has invested in green technology for brick kilns as these kilns account for 20% of black carbon emissions. The CCAC also started finance funds to help build a greener future along with many additional air pollution-reducing initiatives. CCAC’s efforts and other similar commitments could reduce black carbon emissions by 72% and methane by 37% by the year 2040.

Hope for Bangladesh

Because of the link between air pollution, related illnesses and poverty, addressing these issues is crucial. Extreme levels of air pollution in Bangladesh often stem from the neglect of low-income communities. By paying extra close attention to the air quality in these areas, Bangladesh can overcome its air pollution crisis.

– Katelyn Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Air pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa 
Air pollution is the release of pollutants into the air that are harmful to human health and the environment. Such pollutants could be gases, particles or biological molecules. The slightest increase or decrease in the structure of gases could lower the survival chances of any living thing. Air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa is a particular challenge that requires attention.

Why Air Pollution is Prevalent in Low-Income Nations

“Air pollution is a threat to health in all countries, but it hits people in low-and middle-income countries the hardest,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a September 2021 news release.

The relationship between poverty and air pollution in sub-Saharan African countries is evident because impoverished people are more likely to have greater exposure to higher concentrations of air pollutants. In contrast, high-income countries seem to have a lower rate of exposure to air pollution.

Environmental experts Paul Mohai and Robin Saha conducted a study in 2015. The study examined U.S. communities before and after hazardous waste facilities were present. The study found that facilities between 1966 and 1995 chose to locate in areas with low-income family populations.

Mohai and Saha believe that facilities move into low-income areas because of the cheap land cost, low cost of labor and minimum community resistance. The presence of these facilities and the air pollution that comes with their activities leave low-income countries facing detrimental health consequences.

The Health Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution holds the largest environmental impact on human health. It can cause a reduction in lung growth and function and lead to respiratory infections and aggravated asthma in any child exposed. More specifically, cardiovascular disease is an ailment that plagues sub-Saharan Africa due to household air pollution. Solid fuels for cooking, heating and lighting are the main perpetrators of this disease.

According to the WHO, household air pollution (HAP) was responsible for 4.3 million premature deaths in 2012 due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancers. Research proves that the level of HAP surpasses the recommended WHO guidelines and the number of people exposed to pollutants has increased from 333 million to 646 million.

Respiratory ailments are very common among children in cities with high concentrations of pollutants. According to the Open Knowledge Repository, this impairs their learning and development capabilities. Unfortunately, as adults, they end up with minimum qualifications and skills. With little education and experience, they struggle economically and live life in poverty.

Treatments are available for many of the ill-health issues that occur with air pollution. However, living in low-income countries makes access to affordable health care scarce. The relationship between ill-health and poverty seems inevitable because of this fact.

Disadvantaged people are unable to afford health care, making poverty an obstacle to overcome before receiving adequate care. As a result, families have to deal with the loss of income from out-of-pocket health care fees. To care for relatives, some family members may have to quit school or their jobs. These circumstances only exacerbate situations of poverty.

Air Pollution Monitoring

Air pollution stands as a significant global issue. However, the exact extent of the issue is unknown and immeasurable due to the lack of monitoring. Aware of this situation, in 2019, Dan Westervelt, an associate researcher at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory received funding to install an air-pollution monitoring network in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Kampala, Uganda and Nairobi, Kenya. Westervelt believes that the issue of air pollution cannot reach a resolution without quantifiable data.

Monitoring provided data in Kinshasa in the DRC, depicting the average fine particulate matter level to be five times greater than the normal level. Like Kinshasa, the monitoring will provide similar data on the other two megacities for analysis in order to address the air pollution epidemic.

Updated WHO Air Quality Guidelines

Fortunately, the World Health Organization provides guidelines to ensure good health. After 15 years, WHO updated its guidelines to improve air quality. The new guidelines detail the damage that air pollution causes the human body. The WHO’s solution to revitalize human health is to reduce levels of key air pollutants and emissions.

Six pollutants could have major impacts on health upon exposure. These pollutants are “particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.” Fossil fuels, wildfires and agriculture produce particulate matter.

Ground-level ozone comes from the emissions of cars, factories, plants and even some solvents. Burning fossil fuel produces nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide pollutants. Incomplete combustion containing fuel creates carbon monoxide pollutants.

If countries stay below suggested air quality guideline levels, significant health risks could decrease. Although this may have a small impact on communities with low rates of air pollution, it would immensely impact those suffering from higher rates. Air pollution dominates areas with people who are unable to afford higher quality living, exacerbating their poverty further with health issues. With lower rates of air pollution, disadvantaged communities could have a higher survival rate and fewer health challenges.

WHO’s updated air quality guidelines strive to eliminate future problems of air pollution and save millions of lives. With these guidelines, air pollution in sub-Saharan Africa should reduce and sub-Saharan African countries could inevitably see improvement in their quality of life.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Air Pollution in Africa
Air pollution in Africa is one of the largest threats facing the continent today. Moreover, those who air pollution most affects live in the poorest communities. In the last 30 years, deaths attributed to air pollution increased by 60%. That was a jump from 164,000 to 258,000. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources and unstable political systems, only seven countries in Africa have access to reliable air pollution monitors. The good news is that Africa is getting help from governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Both governments and NGOs are investing their resources to provide a cleaner future and improve the lives of millions of Africans in low-income communities.

USEPA Efforts in Ghana

Efforts by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) in Ghana aim to address air pollution in both industrial and urban communities. Areas of focus also extend to the exposure of toxic chemicals and the quality of water in low-income communities. In collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ghana, the USEPA trained staff to not only examine the benefits of controlling air pollution but also how to better manage their monitoring stations. This support could result in both an overall healthier population and greater prosperity.

In addition to implementing new programs, in August 2018, Ghana’s EPA launched the Greater Accra Metropolitan Areas Air Quality Management Plan (GAMAAQM) which sets new standards for vehicle emissions. It also sets the standards for national air quality. On October 14, 2021, EPA Ghana announced that they would build three air quality monitoring stations in the Accra Metropolitan Area by the beginning of summer 2022. The data from these stations will allow government agencies to inform their constituents of the air quality. It will also help to pass policies that reduce air pollution and improve overall public health in all communities.

USEPA Efforts in Ethiopia

Much like its sister partnership with Ghana, Ethiopia is working to reduce air pollution and to develop and implement an efficient Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP). In Ethiopia, air pollution is the second-highest factor of death and the third-highest factor for disability.

In collaboration with Ethiopia’s EPA and several other government agencies, the next step includes finalizing the Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP). Ethiopia’s EPA will also reach out to local governments to help implement these measures. To date, Ethiopian EPA members have undergone training to identify air quality and manage air pollution monitoring stations. Ethiopia’s EPA is also collaborating with the UN Environment for a technical training program that will build capacity for the current air quality assessment program.

Columbia University’s Clean Air Toolbox for Cities

The Clean Air Toolbox for Cities (TCATC) is working to improve the lives of more than 43 million people across several cities in Africa and India. Some cities include Nairobi, Kenya; Kampala, Uganda; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Chennai, India. TCATC’s work focuses on a multitude of initiatives that reduce air pollution in impoverished communities. Some of those initiatives include:

  • Building efficient air pollution monitoring stations
  • Advocating for relevant policies both nationally and internationally
  • Establishing Clean Air Hubs as local outreach centers that support technological development
  • Educating and encouraging collaborative development to reduce pollution and poverty

A highlight of TCATC’s work in India includes data gathered from 109 fine particulate matter sensors in 25 Indian cities. That data shows that the increase in monitoring stations from 2017 to 2020 improved India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) ability to track air pollution and spatial coverage in 17 states. Places like Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai saw more “good” air-quality days in 2019 and 2020 than in 2017.

The Work Continues

Air pollution in Africa is a devastating crisis. Luckily, organizations like the USEPA and TCATC are working with local governments, which is helping to make a difference. As these groups build monitoring stations, air pollution tracking and awareness improve. As that happens, air quality is improving. Most importantly, with time, millions of impoverished Africans will be healthier and more prosperous.

– Sal Huizar
Photo: Flickr

Envirofit Cookstoves According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “more than three billion people worldwide rely on polluting energy sources such as wood, dung and charcoal for cooking.” These practices are most common in impoverished areas within developing countries and come with severe health consequences. As women are usually tasked with the cooking responsibilities, the indoor air pollution caused by cooking with these traditional fuels disproportionately impacts women as well as children in the household. A social enterprise called Envirofit International aims to make clean cookstoves more accessible and affordable for families living in developing nations.

Polluting Fuels and Gender Inequality

Cooking with polluting energy sources not only leads to serious health repercussions but also contributes to economic gender inequality. Girls and women are the main gatherers of these polluting energy sources, which require more than twice as much time to gather in comparison to clean fuels. Girls from households that use polluting fuels spend roughly 18 hours per week collecting fuel in contrast to five hours a week for those from households that utilize clean energy sources. This time could go toward more productive activities such as learning and paid work. As a result, girls and women fall behind in education and economic advancement.

Health and Economic Repercussions of Indoor Air Pollution

According to the WHO, annually, almost four million people die prematurely as a result of household air pollution caused by “inefficient cooking practices using polluting stoves paired with solid fuels and kerosene.” Indoor air pollution can cause ischaemic heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and pulmonary disease. Indoor pollution increases the risk of pneumonia in children by 50% and “is responsible for 45% of all pneumonia deaths in children” younger than 5. Gathering traditional fuels, a task typically performed by women and children can lead to musculoskeletal damage due to the arduous nature of this task.

Envirofit Cookstoves

Envirofit International works to replace dangerous and harmful traditional cooking methods with clean biomass cookstoves that are efficient, durable and inexpensive. The enterprise is headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since its incorporation in 2003, Envirofit has manufactured and commercialized smart stoves that cook faster, use less fuel and produce less smoke and toxic emissions. Envirofit cookstoves reduce “fuel use, fuel cost and cooking time by up to 60%” and decrease smoke and harmful emissions by up to 80%. These fuel savings alone can increase household income by up to 15% a year.

Using a market-based approach, Envirofit has helped more than five million people in 45 nations around the world save money and time while also reducing their carbon footprint. Envirofits’s clean, pollution-free technology has saved lives by reducing preventable deaths due to pollution. Envirofit cookstoves feature efficient combustion chambers to decrease emissions and utilize biomass fuel, which is accessible for people in rural communities.

With regional headquarters and production sites in East Africa, West Africa, Asia and Latin America, Envirofit can deliver local solutions tailored to each region’s specific needs. Each regional headquarter also contributes to the local economy by providing new employment and business opportunities. Besides creating jobs and making cooking safer, more convenient and affordable, Envirofit promotes sales by conducting local awareness campaigns about the effects of air pollution on health.

Overall, Envirofit cookstoves contribute to the health and well-being of millions of impoverished people across the world, saving lives, time and money.

Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

Many developing nations struggle with energy poverty, which is defined as “a lack of access to modern energy services.” According to Energypedia, “access to energy is a prerequisite of human development.” Electricity is also essential for the “provision of social services such as education and health.” Energy access also links to the economic growth and development of a nation. The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a nonprofit organization with a mission of harnessing solar energy to support social and economic development in disadvantaged communities.

Benefits of Solar Power

According to ZenEnergy, the use of solar energy helps to decrease the effects of climate change by reducing fossil fuel reliance, air pollution and water usage. Solar energy does not burn fuel, eliminating the harmful gas emissions that stem from fossil fuel energy production. Additionally, unlike the finite nature of fossil fuels, solar energy is abundant. Furthermore, solar energy does not require water to generate electricity. Solar power is a cost-effective and sustainable renewable energy source that can help reduce energy poverty throughout the world.

Addressing Energy Poverty

SELF implements solar projects to sustainably create energy, which provides for basic human needs and economic development. When SELF was first established in 1990, the organization began by fitting individual home solar-powered systems. However, the company yearned to make a larger impact with more long-term benefits. As a result, SELF adjusted its goals to include the creation of a business model “that could be self-sustained in communities” in developing countries. Thus, the Whole Village Development Model was born.

This “all-encompassing approach” utilizes solar energy from the sun to power entire villages while improving “healthcare, education and food security.” In 2001, SELF celebrated the opening of its first “solar-powered computer lab” in a high school in Maphephethe, South Africa. Due to these solar-powered capabilities, student enrollment at the school increased by 40% and graduation rates rose by close to 15%.

Solar Power in Developing Communities

Although the entire world can benefit from solar energy, impoverished countries are especially targeted to improve air quality and reduce health issues linked to the burning of fuelwood, reports Science Direct. Solar photovoltaic is a type of technology that can provide renewable energy in impoverished communities. This particular solar source eliminates the financial burden of grid extensions. Grid extensions are not viable options in communities with scarce traditional energy sources. For many developing countries, solar energy provides the opportunity for a better life, and, environmental sustainability is a bonus.

Overseeing Vaccine Refrigerators

Among other projects, in partnership with PATH, “an international nonprofit global health organization” located in the U.S. state of Seattle, SELF recently pledged to enlist evaluation teams to ensure vaccine refrigerators are functioning effectively in vaccination sites around Haiti, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Developing countries often lack proper mechanisms to monitor the efficiency of vaccine refrigerators. The goal of the partnership is to provide this assurance.

Two solar technicians from SELF are responsible for visiting 42 sites in Haiti to evaluate refrigerators on a monthly basis. After a one-year evaluation, SELF analyzes the data and reports on it to the World Health Organization. As inadequate refrigeration can have adverse public health implications, the vaccine cold storage monitoring project is just one example of the important work SELF does to support global communities aside from solar energy projects.

SELF’s Commitment to Disadvantaged Communities

Presently, SELF is working on several different projects with the main objective of improving living conditions in developing countries. Some of its projects include bringing clean water to West Africa as well as expanding micro-grids and providing solar training in Haiti. SELF continues to light up communities in need with new projects and approaches that harness the sustainable power of the sun.

Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

Air Quality
The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed interest in air quality as lockdowns and public health restrictions have led to improved quality in many areas. Additionally, research has found a link between poor air quality and poor COVID-19 outcomes. The decline in pollution will be only temporary, and in many areas was actually smaller than scientists anticipated.

The impacts of poor air quality on global health beyond COVID-19 are numerous. However, curbing emissions and improving quality where it is already poor are huge undertakings. Nonetheless, looking at those living in urban areas where quality is monitored, more than 80% of people are experiencing air pollution in excess of the limits suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). This makes air quality a pivotal global health issue.

Another important factor in addressing this issue is the distribution of the negative effects of poor air quality. In other words, the development of any program or policy interventions ought to consider the inequitable distribution of those effects. Research in the United States and the United Kingdom indicates that while wealthier people tend to be responsible for the majority of air pollutants, those living in impoverished areas disproportionately experience the harmful effects of those pollutants.

A. What Compromises Air Quality

There are two main categories of air pollutants: those naturally occurring and those human-made. While dust storms and wildfires can introduce harmful particulate matter, there are also numerous sources of pollution driven by human activities. These include automobiles, certain types of power plants, oil refineries and more. In addition to particulate matter, other pollutants that adversely affect health include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.

Finding new yet affordable ways to decrease the pollutants we release into the air is challenging but not insurmountable. Putting this into perspective, 90% of people around the world are breathing unclean air according to WHO guidelines.

B. What Poor Quality Air Does to Our Health

Beyond the link between air pollution and poor COVID-19 outcomes, research also shows the negative impact air pollution has on the risk of stroke and heart disease, certain types of cancer, lung infections and diseases and even mental health. Furthermore, both air quality and environmental quality tend to be worse in areas of the world already comparatively disadvantaged.

According to research on the effectiveness of European climate and pollution policies, the number of people prematurely dying after exposure to fine particulate matter pollution decreased by approximately 60,000 between 2018 and 2019. Better yet, between 2010 and 2020, there was a 54% drop in premature deaths attributable to nitrogen dioxide pollution. Despite these positive outcomes, they also demonstrate the extent of the damage airborne pollutants can do to human health.

C. What Has Proven Successful in Protecting Air Quality

Like health policy progress, innovations in air quality programs and policies often start at the local government level. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), cities around the world are implementing ultra-low and zero-emission urban access zones, deploying hundreds of thousands of electric buses, and learning from their own successes in moving to clean municipal transportation in order to teach other cities to do the same.

The EDF notes the importance of gathering detailed data on air quality. This data allows organizations to identify communities disproportionately affected by pollution and develop targeted approaches to protecting and improving air quality. This type of data can help localities not only measure levels of pollutants over time but pinpoint hotspots. Hotspots include, for example, those caused by construction sites and manufacturing facilities. The need for this type of data is worldwide, but developing nations are in particular need of the tools necessary for thorough air quality monitoring.

Highlighting the successes experienced in air pollutant reduction efforts in wealthier counties may seem counterintuitive given the importance of addressing inequalities across the world. Still, they also represent numerous lessons for developing cities and countries to learn. The negative experiences of areas already developed have yielded data, technology and sample policies from which leaders worldwide can draw. Moving forward, it is essential that organizations and leaders around the world prioritize improving air quality.

Amy Perkins
Photo: Pixabay

How Air Pollution Affects Poverty in EuropeAir pollution is disproportionately affecting the health and well-being of people living in poverty, according to a recent report by the European Environment Agency. The report titled “Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe,” calls for improving air quality in Europe by decreasing emissions and adding green spaces. Many consider air pollution to be an environmental issue or a global health concern that affects us all equally. However, the report makes the case that impoverished communities face a higher burden of air pollution and other environmental stressors.

The Link Between Air Pollution and Poverty

The Borgen Project held an interview with Catherine Ganzleben, head of the air pollution and environmental health groups at the European Environment Agency (EEA). She said, “Pollution hits poorer communities harder than affluent communities because of lack of access to medical care and exposure to the byproducts of climate change.”

As the climate crisis continues to worsen so does air pollution and extreme weather, disproportionately affecting those living in poverty. “In large parts of Europe, [vulnerable communities] are more likely to live next to busy roads or industrial areas,” Ganzleben said. “[They] face higher levels of exposure to air pollution.”

Even when both affluent and impoverished people experience the same exposure, air pollution affects the health of the impoverished more. Ganzlebe continued, “People living in lower-income regions [were found] to be more susceptible to the health effects of [pollutants] than wealthier people living in polluted areas.” Additionally, families with lower socio-economic status face more significant negative effects of pollution. Several factors could contribute to the disproportionate effects of air pollution. These include access to healthcare, underlying conditions and poor housing situations.

The Struggle for Clean Air in Poland

Traffic and industrial pollution are two of the main factors contributing to air pollution in Europe. But, in some countries, like Poland, the largest contributor to air pollution is burning coal to heat single-family households.

Poland is infamous for having one of the worst levels of air pollution in the European Union, according to K. Max Zhang in his interview with The Borgen Project. Zhang is a professor of energy and the environment at Cornell University. Poland still generates electricity and heat using coal, one of the most polluting forms of energy.

Poland’s reliance on coal can mainly be attributed to its abundance of old, single-family houses built in the 1970s. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Magdalena Kozlowska claimed that these homes remain unrenovated. She is the project coordinator of Polish Smog Alert. She also added that the most impoverished populations in Poland are less able to update their energy sources.

Polish Smog Alert is an organization that is committed to cleaning Poland’s air and meeting the European air quality standards through advocacy and mobilization. It also works to inform the public and help people make their houses more energy-efficient, Kozłowska said. The organization formed in 2013 when they started working to ban the burning of solid fuels in Krakow.

This ban on burning solid fuels came to fruition in 2019, when Polish Smog Alert worked with local and national governments to enact “changes in the national law [and the] city had to cooperate and offer money to exchange the boilers and help people experiencing poverty to pay the difference in bills,” Kozlowska continued. “And still, the city is doing that.”

Goals of the European Environment Agency’s Report

The attention to air quality around the world has been increasing in recent years. However, the EEA wants to see more policy changes and tangible action from the European government, Ganzleben said. These policies should also not have the sole aim of protecting the environment. In addition to environmental efforts, these policies should protect communities that are feeling the brunt of climate change’s effects. “Policies to deliver high environmental quality should be aimed at preventing and reducing the unequal distribution of environmental health risks, ensuring fair access to environmental resources and enabling sustainable choices,” said Ganzleben.

The report also explains the benefits of green spaces, even within polluted city environments. Green spaces, like parks and lakes, can benefit people’s well-being. “Mental and physical [health] are linked,” said Michael Brauer, professor of environmental health at the University of British Columbia, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

Reports like this one from the EEA, Brauer said, are a result of a growing urgency related to air pollution. In recent years, there has been much more attention globally to the issue, “[As a] response to increasing awareness of air pollution and the problem,” Brauer continued. “There is really no evidence of a safe level of air pollution.”

Combating Air Pollution’s Disproportionate Effect on the Poor

There need to be policy changes that address the socio-economic effects of climate change. This will alleviate the burden of air pollution on those living in poverty. “At the local level, integrating environmental health concerns into welfare policies, health policies and urban planning and housing policies can help to reduce the vulnerability and exposure of the population,” the report read. “Air pollution not only hurts the environment, but it also exacerbates poverty, and worsens the living conditions for the poor.” While humanitarian organizations like the Polish Smog Alert are working to alleviate pollution in Europe, there is still much to be done to eradicate air pollution and help those disproportionately experiencing the consequences of climate change.

– Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr 

Electrifying TransportationThe World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded 7 million premature deaths globally as a result of elevated levels of air pollution. In 2016, the WHO reported that 91% of the world’s population resided in areas that did not meet the threshold for acceptable air quality. Such conditions escalate the effects of and increase mortality from strokes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and infections, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2010, the World Bank along with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported more than 180,000 deaths and the loss of 4,100,000 disability life adjusted years directly attributable to road transport air pollution. Also, when declaring the ‘best practice group’ for policy handling of air pollution, the list consisted mainly of high-income countries that can afford preventative measures like electrifying transportation.

Air Quality and Poverty

The WHO reports that low-and middle-income countries suffer the highest effects of elevated exposure to harmful air pollutants. In fact, the majority of the world’s cities with the highest Air Quality Indices (AQI) are found in developing nations. These countries typically do not have adequate laws or enforcement to protect against air pollution. These nations tend to contain a higher number of coal power stations and less stringent restrictions on vehicle emissions.

Further, developing nations experience great disparity in the effects of air pollution and the burden typically falls on the countries’ most impoverished populations. The reason for this is that the impoverished usually reside in highly concentrated areas with dense harmful emissions, a consequence of their exclusion from suburban areas where there are fewer pollutant-generating spaces.

Despite air pollution challenges, a healthy environment, which includes clean air, is a human right and forms part of the United Nations (U.N.) Sustainable Development Goals. In order to improve air quality, one of the U.N.’s main suggestions is to adopt clean and renewable energy and technologies.

Electrifying Transportation

The emissions from current fuel and diesel-powered traditional transportation systems consisting of fossil fuel-powered cars, trucks and buses generate pollutants that have adverse effects on every organ in the human body. These forms of transport are also responsible for approximately half of all the nitrogen oxides in the air of the U.S. alone.

Furthermore, transportation stands as one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gases. Given the large contribution to air pollution arising from main-stream fuel and diesel vehicles, electrifying transportation systems is anticipated to be one of the most effective, shorter-term solutions to air pollution. This will, in turn, lift some of the burdens on impoverished and vulnerable populations.

One of the main advancements in renewable technology is the use of electric vehicles. One estimate finds that with the widespread accelerated adoption of clean transportation through the electrification of vehicles and fuel, an approximated 25 million aggregate years of life would be saved by 2030. Included in this figure are at least 210,000 reductions in premature deaths in 2030 alone. These gains would primarily occur in China, India, the Middle East, Africa and developing Asia, especially in locations with the highest rates of poverty.

So far, there are three classes of electric vehicles:

  1. E4W – Electric four-wheelers.
  2. E2W – Electric two-wheelers.
  3. HEV – Hybrid electric vehicles.

Access in Developing Countries

One of the main barriers to electrifying transportation in developing nations is the fact that electric vehicles (EVs) are typically more expensive than traditional fuel and diesel-powered vehicles. However, switching to EVs can prompt savings. Developing nations exist on a spectrum of development. For those with public transportation systems, working police and emergency health care fleets, the governmental investment in the transition toward electric vehicles and trucks would not only help to improve the air quality in the respective nations but would also prove cheaper and more sustainable in the long run.

Of the available classes of electric transport options, the E2Ws would be most beneficial in developing nations. This is because E2Ws have the lowest energy consumption rating. Unlike E4Ws, the E2W class of EV’s ability to charge via regular home outlets means that there are no substantial charging infrastructure investment requirements.

In terms of operational costs, all classes of EVs have lower operational costs than their corresponding fuel vehicles. However, the E2W class has benefits ranging from 24% lower operational costs, and in some countries like Vietnam, eight times lower operating costs than corresponding fuel-based transportation.

Many developing nations might not yet be in a position to invest in and benefit from the E4W or HEV EV classes due to their high initial investment and required charging infrastructure investments. The E2W class by contrast has been found to be a feasible investment for electrifying transportation for poverty reduction. Not only will this contribute to a significant reduction in air pollution, lightening its burden on the poorer populations, but it will also prompt savings for governments and stimulate economic growth. Additionally, as investments in EVs continue to rise, the initial purchase prices will fall and so developing countries might be able to afford higher classes.

Rebecca Harris
Photo: Flickr

Pollution in Mongolia
Pollution is just as much of a problem in the developing world as it is in the developed world, perhaps even more so. For one, developing countries cannot always afford to fight it. Additionally, oftentimes pollution is created directly by what is needed to survive. This is the case in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. Efforts to address pollution in Mongolia go hand-in-hand with helping the poor.

Pollution and Poverty

Many people in Ulaanbaatar, often impoverished, rely heavily on coal to keep themselves warm during cold winters. The problem is that the widespread usage of coal concentrated in one area creates a great deal of air pollution. Temperatures in the city rarely reach above the upper 60s, creating an almost yearlong reliance on coal.

In turn, air pollution negatively impacts the impoverished in Ulaanbaatar, where poverty is increasing. Many struggling Mongolian families deal with the unhealthy air firsthand. Air pollution can cause a variety of health problems, including lung and heart diseases. As the impoverished are likely to be unable to afford or access high-quality health care, this often leads to higher mortality rates.

Potential Solutions

The most straightforward solution would be to do away with coal usage. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done, considering the temperatures in Ulaanbaatar. The government would need to establish more sustainable and better methods of heating to provide people with the necessary heating to survive. It is also essential for these methods to be affordable to ensure the impoverished can use them. Two alternative methods are geothermal heating and underfloor heating.

Geothermal heating involves using the underground to heat a home, as the temperatures underground are often reliably warmer than above-ground temperatures. Installing geothermal heating pumps requires finding suitable areas underground to drill. Unfortunately, the pumps can also be expensive to install; humanitarian organizations would need to provide significant funding to set up this heating system in Ulaanbaatar.

Another viable method of heating is underfloor heating. It is similar to geothermal heating but a bit less work and has significant benefits such as being much cheaper than other heating sources and eliminating drafts entirely. However, it also requires funding for installation. The installation could help those in poverty, however, as it could utilize local workers for the construction.

Underfloor heating may also be the better alternative because many poor Mongolians have a nomadic lifestyle and the installation must take place in unused areas. With an understanding of migration patterns, underfloor heating could be installed in areas that are currently in disuse so that it is ready to be used when people return.

Moving Forward

Pollution in Mongolia continues to be an issue, particularly in cities like Ulaanbaatar. With concerns about health problems associated with high air pollution, it is clear that a sustainable alternative to coal needs to be implemented. Implementation, however, will require significant funding from the Mongolian government and humanitarian organizations. Moving forward, it is essential that these groups make addressing pollution in the country a priority of their efforts. Pollution and poverty are intertwined; pollution must be adequately addressed in order to eradicate poverty.

Remy Desai-Patel
Photo: Flickr

air pollution in KosovoIn December 2019, children in Kosovo, a disputed territory in Southeast Europe, wore face masks on their way to school. But, this action did not stem from curbing the spread of COVID-19, the deadly contagion that has since gripped the world. Instead, children wore face masks to protect themselves from air pollution in Kosovo.

Causes of Air Pollution

Power plants that are run by burning coal, private residences that burn coal for heat and antiquated automobiles that run on less environmental-friendly engines contribute to air pollution in Kosovo. In particular, the Kosovo B power station, outside Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, released a massive quantity of nitrogen oxide and dust emissions until the plant’s modernization began in 2019. Modernization efforts seek to immediately improve air quality. In the long term, modernization efforts will meet the standards of the European Union’s (EU) environmental safety regulations and improve Kosovo’s domestic infrastructure.

The EU invested in two initiatives that would help Kosovo’s air pollution relief efforts. First, the EU granted $83 million to the Kosovo B power station’s modernization. Second, the EU invested another $7.6 million to renovate heating systems in private and public buildings throughout Kosovo, including schools and homes.

Poverty’s Impact on Methods of Heating Private Homes

Much debate surrounds the question of whether wood is an environmentally responsible source of heat energy. Many scientists fear that acknowledging wood sources as an environmentally friendly form of heat energy will give the green light to deforestation, one of the primary contributors to the world’s environmental crisis. For many citizens of Kosovo, wood and coal are the least expensive methods to heat their homes.

Around the world, indoor air pollution kills more than 1.5 million people. Indoor air pollution is caused by burning substances like coal, wood and human or animal feces in small, enclosed areas with antiquated heating systems. Along with the human toll, indoor air pollution contributes to the environmental crisis.

For example, indoor air pollution is a factor that contributes to overall air pollution in Kosovo. The bulk of the EU’s investment to address air pollution in Kosovo went toward modernizing the Kosovo B power station. The amount of money the EU invested in addressing indoor air pollution amounted to about a tenth of the money the EU invested in modernizing the power station. Former Environment Minister Fatmir Matoshi put the weight of the responsibility in addressing indoor air pollution on Kosovo’s citizens by asking them to refrain from using coal and wood to heat their homes. However, low-income households would face severe challenges in obtaining alternative heating sources as wood and coal are the least expensive methods for families to heat their homes.

Efforts to Address Poverty and Air Pollution in Kosovo

People who live in poverty have to rely on more accessible, less expensive means to heat their homes. Toxic biomass fuels, like coal and wood, are used by approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide. In Kosovo, people are unable to stop using coal and wood because they lack the means to heat their homes with other non-toxic materials.

To reduce air pollution in Kosovo, the nation must first address poverty. Fortunately, some organizations are making strides to mitigate the issue. The Ideas Partnership selects individual families from minority groups in Kosovo to support. Many such families subsist via “garbage picking,” the only source of income and sustenance otherwise available to them. The Ideas Partnership aims to remove families from overcrowded dwellings and provide them with food and shelter so parents can focus on the education and well-being of their children.

The Kosovar Organization for Talent and Education recognizes the role education plays in preparing Kosovo’s youth for the labor force. Kosovo’s population is young; a quarter of the nation’s citizens are younger than 19 years old. In 2017, more than half of Kosovo’s youthful population faced unemployment. The Kosovar Organization for Talent and Education began in 2015. Today, more than 15,000 citizens have participated in the program as volunteers and students. The organization’s goal is to improve the quality of education in Kosovo while preparing students to enter the workforce.

Air pollution in Kosovo links to a variety of factors that the nation must promptly address. Widespread, oppressive poverty in Kosovo stands at the root of this issue. Kosovo must address both poverty and air pollution simultaneously to achieve long-term well-being and sustainability.

—Taylor Pangman
Photo: Pixabay