Plastics for ChangeOver 719 billion people live in extreme poverty, roughly 10% of the world. There are an array of different reasons behind the causes of extreme poverty. Many reasons behind extreme poverty are poor health and living conditions. Limited food and clean water sources are also significant contributors. The factors that lead to impoverished conditions go on and on, but one factor that has a large impact that may not come to mind so quickly is pollution. 

Air pollution and water pollution have a strong negative impact on communities that are living in poverty. With fewer resources available to combat the problem, 92% of pollution-related deaths occur in middle and low-income countries. Children are even more likely to be impacted by the adverse effects of pollution, most commonly from chemicals in the air and water.

Many plastic products that people purchase are created by companies to be used once and then thrown away; consider water bottles and shampoo containers. In middle and low-income communities, it is more likely for people not to have access to solid waste management services. That lack of access leaves these communities with no choice but to burn garbage or dump it into waterways. 

Burning plastic often releases toxic fumes, which have been linked to rendering neurological development. By dumping plastic into waterways, the water is at a higher risk of flooding, increasing the possibility of diseases spreading. Standing water also attracts mosquitoes, which tend to carry parasites responsible for the fatal disease malaria, which is most commonly found in impoverished countries. 

Plastics For Change

The World Bank estimates that 1 in 10 people exposed to unsafe air pollution live in poverty. If someone living in poverty-like conditions does not have adequate access to health care, pollution can have a detrimental effect on the person, especially when other poverty conditions are present. 

A man named Andrew Almack traveled through South Asia in 2011. Upon visiting, he was shocked to see how many people lived in extreme poverty and how much plastic waste was present throughout the region. After visiting, Almack saw the great need for something to be done to reduce plastic waste and pollution. This same year, Almack founded Plastics For Change.

Plastics For Change strives to fight poverty and provide jobs for people in poor communities. The organization also strives to reduce plastic waste by creating and spreading ways to dispose of waste properly. Andrew Almack believed that there was a vast opportunity to use recycling as a way to reduce poverty. The organization encourages companies to switch to recycled plastic in hopes that even more brands will be involved in reducing pollution and fighting poverty.

Reducing Pollution To Fight Poverty

While pollution and poverty may seem unrelated, pollution often harshens the effects of already impoverished communities. Many believe that clean air and clean water shouldn’t be a privilege but that it should be a necessity. Plastics for Change, among many other organizations and nonprofits, has made reducing pollution to fight poverty a means of importance with the hopes that the world will see great change one day. 

Alesandra Cowardin
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Air Pollution Affects the ImpoverishedAir pollution is a global problem, but it disproportionately impacts impoverished communities. According to the World Bank, approximately 10% of people living in poverty experience poor air quality. This affects at least 70 million individuals, who must contend with air pollution alongside other challenges associated with poverty.

Lower-income communities often face significant disadvantages due to their location and economic circumstances. This can result in a range of issues that may persist for generations. According to Professor Robert Shorten, there is a notable relationship between poverty and environmental pollution, where poverty can lead to increased pollution, and environmental pollution can, in turn, exacerbate poverty. Here is how air pollution affects the impoverished.

The Way Air Pollution Affects the Impoverished

When pollution affects an area, it often leads to a decrease in house prices. This happens because fewer people want to live in polluted areas, so the demand for homes there is lower. As a result, individuals with limited financial resources may find it easier to afford housing in these areas due to the reduced property costs compared to less polluted regions.

While industrial areas and factories contribute significantly to air pollution, households also play a role. In many developing countries, impoverished families use inexpensive but harmful energy sources that pollute the air. Fossil fuels, in particular, are often to blame due to the unhealthy levels of nitrogen oxide emissions they produce.

The switch to less harmful energy sources, such as renewable energy sources, is difficult for impoverished households. Renewable energy infrastructure involves costs that people in poverty simply cannot afford.

The Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution significantly impacts human health as the harmful particles damage the lungs and puts people at risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke. For people in impoverished communities, quality health care is scarce, meaning people struggle to access medical services when they need to.

The lack of proper health care facilities leads to delays in people returning to work when they are sick, resulting in reduced income. Even worse, air pollution can lead to serious health issues and, in some cases, premature death.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 7 million people, primarily in developing countries, die each year due to the effects of air pollution. Moreover, an alarming “nine in 10 people on the planet live with poor, even dangerous, air.”

Devastating Consequences

Children are the most vulnerable group in this situation. One study revealed that children from lower-income neighborhoods suffer from brain damage due to exposure to neurotoxic air pollutants. These pollutants negatively affect the development of their brains, hampering their cognitive growth. This is a significant issue because research indicates that children with impaired neurological development often face difficulties in school.

Children from lower-income backgrounds face educational disadvantages due to pollution, which can trap them in poverty. This situation can hinder their ability to complete their education or attend prestigious colleges, resulting in reduced income. Furthermore, neurotoxic air pollutants may also affect their offspring. Research from the Institute of Labor Economics supports this, which indicates that lower-income children living near industrial facilities releasing toxic chemicals experience, on average, 1.252 fewer years of education and a 13.9% reduced likelihood of graduating from high school. Additionally, forecasts suggest that about 9.3% of these children could develop cognitive disabilities as adults.

Ongoing Efforts

BreatheLife mobilizes communities to reduce the impact of air pollution on human health and the environment. In 2019, BreatheLife, a campaign by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, WHO and the UN Environment, implemented initiatives in 55 cities and countries, positively impacting more than 153 million people. The campaign convinced 55,000 people to travel regularly via bike or on foot in order to reduce air pollution from vehicles. BreatheLife’s efforts continue to impact. The organization is active in 79 cities, regions and countries, reaching nearly 500 million people.

WHO has developed an entire guidebook on how countries can monitor their air quality. “The overall objective of the updated global guidelines is to offer quantitative health-based recommendations for air quality management, expressed as long or short-term concentrations for a number of key air pollutants.”

Hopes for the Future

While the fact that air pollution affects the impoverished is a concerning issue, there are ongoing efforts to address this problem. Initiatives like BreatheLife are making a positive impact by mobilizing communities to reduce air pollution’s effects on both human health and the environment. Additionally, WHO has provided guidance on how countries can monitor and manage air quality to protect their citizens. These efforts offer hope for a healthier and more equitable future, where the burden of air pollution on impoverished communities can be alleviated.

– Uzair Khan
Photo: Flickr

EVs Are Driving Solutions to Global Poverty
Electric vehicles (EVs) are the latest trend in the automotive industry and are helping diminish global poverty. Originating in the 1880s, the recent resurgence of the electric car has helped reduce air pollution associated with internal combustion engines (ICEs). 

Although they can have a high upfront cost and require charging infrastructure, electric vehicles are driving solutions to global poverty by lowering operating costs, reducing air pollution and creating energy independence. Here are three ways EVs are reducing global poverty.

1. Lowered Operation Cost

Although the high cost of using electricity as fuel may at first seem daunting, lower maintenance costs mean EVs manage to break even over ICE cars. Proponents of EVs have cited the fact that these cars are cheaper to drive per mile, and this is due to the cars’ superior fuel efficiency. Compared to cars that run on ICEs, EVs require far fewer units of fuel.

For example, a study from the World Bank predicts a large increase in the cost advantage of EVs. The study, focusing on 20 countries around the world, observed scenarios like the 30 x 30, green grid, and scarce minerals scenarios to simulate the return on investment of EVs by 2030. These scenarios all had different concentrations of EVs and varied circumstances. For instance, the green grid scenario assumes the achievement of certain renewable energy goals.

The statistics strongly support the idea that increasing efforts to promote EVs would create a significant financial cost advantage. Even in the scarce minerals scenario, a case where critical minerals are depleted and the cost of batteries decreases slower than expected, the study predicts a positive financial cost advantage for all of the 20 countries observed.

These statistics, therefore, support the idea that EVs’ lowered operation cost can save important money for developing countries. Their strong long-term prospects for fuel economy make EVs a good tool for reducing global poverty.

2. Reduced Air Pollution and Associated Savings

EVs also allow for substantial savings thanks to their reduced air pollution. The environmental benefits of EVs translate into economic advantages for both individuals and societies at large.

ICE cars release emissions like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, which contribute to pollution, increasing populations’ susceptibility to airborne disease.

EVs, which do not burn gas but instead use electricity as fuel, do not release these harmful emissions. Although generators, which charge these cars with electricity, do release emissions, these are at a far lower level than those released by ICE engines. Replacing ICE cars with EVs would thus tremendously lower poverty associated with pollution-caused disease.

In addition to lowering disease-related poverty, reducing pollution would cut the need for expensive cleanup efforts. Funds that would otherwise be used for these projects could go toward projects that improve employment and education. 

3. Improvements to Energy Independence

Electricity generated domestically, mostly from renewable resources like solar, wind and hydropower, can help charge EVs. By depending more on locally produced, renewable energy, the need to import fossil fuels decreases, improving energy security. 

For many developing countries, oil is a key source of energy. Increasing oil costs might be bad for these economies. By switching to EVs, nations can lessen their dependence on imported oil, reducing the political and economic risks related to the oil market.

Therefore, a crucial part of the answer to reducing global poverty is energy independence, an issue which is considerably improved by EVs.


As these vehicles become ever more affordable for the public, there is no doubt that EVs will become the go-to method of transportation, alleviating both economic and environmental issues.

EVs lower operating costs, reduce air pollution and contribute to energy independence making them key in building a more equitable and sustainable world. By continuing to invest in this integral technology, we can work toward a future where EVs play a central role in alleviating poverty and promoting prosperity for all.

– Advait K. Mishra
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Air Pollution in Iraq
Air pollution in Iraq is one of many environmental issues the country faces. As of 2022, it ranked second in having the worst air quality in the world, only behind Chad. That quality has continued as Iraqi oil fields grow, tainting the air around them and making Iraq the most polluted country in the Middle East.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines small inhalable particles as particulate matter and any particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less are expressed as PM 2.5. Using this measurement sets a standard of what is breathable and what is harmful to the human body. Iraq’s national average is nearly two times higher than World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. These particles are small enough to get into the lungs and bloodstream, which can have disastrous impacts on major organs.

Air pollution in Iraq is affecting those struggling in poverty the most, which is nearly 25% of the population. They are more likely to live near industrial regions, including oil fields where air quality is at its worst, and have less access to affordable health care when compared to higher-income homes.

Steps are being taken to right the ship, and at the start of 2023, Iraq implemented a tree-planting initiative aiming to plant 5 million trees throughout the country that will clean up the air and combat desertification. It will also improve soil fertility and increase the availability of clean water, which is massively beneficial considering how prone Iraq is to droughts.

The Oil Boom

The main contributors to air pollution in Iraq are its massive oil fields in both the North and South. Oil operations in the country account for “95% of foreign exchange earnings,” according to the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, D.C. It produces slightly less than 4 million barrels per day as of now, but the Iraqi parliament has agreed on a plan to raise that number above 5 million barrels per day. It is the fifth largest producer of crude oil in the world, and while this has positive effects on Iraq’s economy, those who live near the oil fields see a very different reality.

Gas flaring describes the burning of excess methane gas when drilling for oil. In countries with strong infrastructure, this excess gas can be reused for further oil production or be processed and consumed for power generation; not so in Iraq. Gas flaring creates huge flames that release toxic gasses like benzene, which, when humans are exposed, causes cells not to work as they should. Exposure can lead to the loss of white blood cells and even death when ingested at high levels. The gas is so dangerous that Iraqi laws prohibit any oil and gas infrastructure from being closer than 10 kilometers from residential areas — but enforcement of those laws is insufficient. 

The Oil Field in Rumaila

In the southern city of Rumaila sits the third largest oil field in the world, which happens to be less than five kilometers away from residential housing, where almost 50% of residents live in poverty. The government has agreed to end what they call routine flaring, even going as far as signing a plan designed by the World Bank to find better uses for the excess gas.

Iraq is finding other ways it can improve its air quality and climate effects as a whole. With the help of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment revised multiple policies that address the country’s greenhouse emissions in the oil and gas sectors and also in agriculture, which will improve air quality. The 2021 commitment will see Iraq use excess methane in electricity production and have better control over crops that produce methane in higher numbers. The goal behind the changes taking place is for Iraq to lower usual greenhouse admissions by 15% by 2035.

Effects on Children

Air pollution in Iraq can be attributed to Western oil companies just as much as to Iraq itself. Oil giant BP practices flaring near Basra at the Rumaila oil field. Higher rates of cancer have been noticed, and many of them have been children. It has gotten so bad that Jassem al-Falahi, Iraqi Environmental Minister, had to admit a link between the two does exist, yet the Minister of Oil continues to deny all connections between air pollution and cancer rates.

Multidimensional poverty describes households that find themselves deprived of needs like education and basic infrastructure services. It is a unit of measure beyond monetary poverty and one in two Iraqi children face this obstacle. Living in poverty means less resilience to climate-related changes including air pollution.

Air pollution in Iraq is a problem that can be improved if those in high government positions can see eye to eye. Gas flaring affects the air quality, and there is a clear link between rising cancer rates and the burning of chemicals like benzene. The chemicals burned can be reused and be beneficial for Iraqis, especially those in poverty. It can be used for more oil production or to generate power in a country where middle-income homes rely on generators for 10 hours per day for power. Those in poverty do not have access to the funds needed to power generators so reusing oil byproducts solves multiple issues. 

– Benett Crim
Photo: Flickr

Air Quality in PakistanPoor air quality is a multifaceted issue that poses a threat to the long-term health of everyone who breathes the air. As of February 2023, the capital of Pakistan, Lahore, is measured to have some of the worst air quality in the world, with a daily air quality index of either “unhealthy” or “very unhealthy.” The air quality in Pakistan and poverty in the nation have a correlation. In 2019, an assessment of Pakistan’s health burden noted that air pollution and malnutrition stood as two of the major risk factors that drive deaths and disability in Pakistan.

Causes of Poor Air Quality in Pakistan

Many different factors contribute to a deadly mix leading to poor air quality in Pakistan. The two most significant contributors to poor air quality are vehicle emissions and industrial emissions.

In 2019, “43% of the total ambient air pollution” in Pakistan stemmed from vehicle emissions. According to Pakistan’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director General Farzana Altaf Shah, during times of break such as Ramazan and summer break, air pollution is not an issue. However, when schools reopen, pollution levels skyrocket once again.

This is the result of the poor maintenance of the vehicular fleets of these institutions. Shah stated that many of the buses use “non-compliant diesel fuel,” which contains high amounts of sulfur dioxide, a chemical that negatively impacts health. She also expressed to the media her frustration with government agencies like the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation (IMC) who also contribute to air pollution with the use of pollution-emitting fleets.

The industrial sector also significantly contributes to poor air quality in Pakistan. Pakistani industries produce many different products, including leather, fertilizer, petrochemicals, paper, cement and automobiles. All of these produce hazardous gases and dangerous smoke. Brick kilns use tires (a “dirty” source of fuel) as fuel.

Health Impact of Poor Air Quality

Air quality in Pakistan comes with many risks to the health of the people. According to the University of Chicago‘s Energy Policy Institute, Lahore residents lose about five years of life as a result of the toxic air they breathe regularly.

In every country, poorer people are most affected by air pollution as they are “priced out” of the better neighborhoods with plush greenery, fewer roads and overall better air quality. As of 2023, the World Bank expects poverty in Pakistan to reach 37.2% based on the poverty line of $3.65 per person per day.

Poor air quality takes a significant toll on the lungs and creates various breathing issues. In Pakistan, common lung conditions are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. A survey conducted in 2013 found that 6.9 million Pakistanis live with symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In Pakistan, one in 10 under-5 child deaths stems from air pollution. A study in 2019 by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution estimated that around 128,000 Pakistanis die every year from illnesses related to air pollution.

Pakistan’s Plan for Tackling Air Pollution

The Government of Punjab is the provincial government of the Pakistani province of Punjab, based in Lahore, the provincial capital. In May 2018, the World Bank granted Pakistan a $200 million soft loan over five years for the Punjab Green Development Program dedicated to green investments that would ultimately improve air quality.

“This project will strengthen the province’s environmental management [by] empowering its environmental protection agencies to provide better services. It will help modernize laws and regulations and promote investments in cleaner technologies to reduce air and water pollution,” the World Bank website says.

Looking Ahead

Efforts are underway to address the severe air pollution challenges in Lahore, Pakistan. For instance, the Punjab Green Development Program, supported by a $200 million soft loan from the World Bank, aims to empower environmental protection agencies and promote investments in cleaner technologies. By modernizing laws and regulations and implementing greener practices, Pakistan is taking important steps towards a healthier and more sustainable future for its citizens.

– David Keenan
Photo: Flickr

Air Quality in Kyrgyzstan
Air quality in Kyrgyzstan is very poor. In fact, in 2022, reports ranked Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital as having the second worst air quality in the world. Poor Kyrgyz air quality links directly to 4,000 premature deaths in 2016.

As reports, “As winter arrives in Bishkek, the sun does not shine on Kyrgyzstan’s capital city and the inhabitants have to live in a constant cloud. This is no fog created by winter precipitations, but a grey haze, slowly intoxicating the residents. That smog has become one of Bishkek’s pressing problems over the past few years.”

Causes of the Poor Air Quality

The dangerous air quality in Bishkek is a multi-dimensional problem that has several distinct roots. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) conducted a report studying the main reasons for the massive amounts of pollutants released into the air. The UNDP has stated that the three main reasons for the dangerous air quality in Bishkek are Bishkek’s large landfill, brown coal usage and vehicle emissions.

Current Landfill Problems

The intention of the landfill haunting the city of Bishkek was to contain trash for far fewer people than it does now. The Soviet Union-era government created the landfill to accommodate the trash of 400,000 people, but with the expansion of the city, Bishkek’s landfill is now responsible for keeping 1.2 million people’s trash.

Frequently the landfill catches fire and releases harmful pollutants into the air. Landfill organic material decomposition produces a highly flammable gas which leads to fires. According to the UNDP, landfill fires have “a significant effect on the air quality near the landfill and should be treated as a priority.”

Stalled Plans for a New Landfill

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and an international donor provided 22 million euros for the construction of a new and improved landfill. The plans received approval in 2013, but 10 years later, the Kyrgyz government has not yet completed the project. Chief reasons for inaction include political instability culminating with the government upheaval in 2020, government fraud and corruption and most recently, COVID-19. COVID-19 hindered progress because prices for construction materials have sky-rocketed as a result of the pandemic.

Brown Coal: Less Expensive but More Ash and Less Efficient

The massive amount of coal used in Kyrgystan greatly impairs air quality. Locally-mined “brown coal” is much cheaper than natural gas and is even cheaper than imported coal so Kyrgyzstan uses it the most. Unfortunately, brown coal has a higher ash content and pollutes more than other coal. It is also less efficient and users need to use more of it.

The Kyrgyz government attempts to help the citizens to afford to heat their homes by discounting brown coal. Due to the high demand for coal, thousands of people wait in line for multiple days in hopes of purchasing some of the coal. Also, to take advantage of this high demand, some opportunists sell government-provided coal at higher prices.

Vehicle Emissions

Vehicle emissions from cars, vans and buses are another high-polluting category. Vehicles are the highest producer of nitrogen oxide which is harmful to the human respiratory system. These emissions are also released at ground level and that produces a particularly large negative effect on the air quality. In addition, Bishkek has the capacity for about 40,000 cars but currently, people are driving about 500,000 cars on the city’s roads. Further, 60% of these vehicles date back to 1995 to 2000. As a result, they lack air purifiers and do even more damage to the air quality in Kyrgyzstan than newer cars. To make matters worse, Kyrgyzstan’s market for catalytic converters encourages many people to remove the catalytic converters from their cars and sell them. Catalytic converters are responsible for removing 90% of the potentially harmful gasses released from cars.

Health Effects From Poor Air Quality

The health effects of poor air quality range from annoying symptoms to fatal conditions. Annoying symptoms include itchy eyes and shortness of breath. More serious conditions include cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. People who are at the highest risk include those with pre-existing health conditions, senior citizens and newborns.

Efforts to Improve Kyrgyz Air Quality

One way the country is trying to make improvements is by introducing electric cars. A South Korean company announced its plan to build an electric car plant in Kyrgyzstan that initially will manufacture 65,000 electric cars annually. Once the company fully establishes the plant, it is planning on producing 300,000 electric cars annually.

The Kyrgyz government is also currently in a 2021-2023 plan for reducing air pollution in the country. Strategies listed in the plan include improving urban planning, developing and preserving green areas, taking action on the new landfill project and improving methods for supplying heating.

While the air quality in Kyrgyzstan is among some of the worst in the world, there is hope for the future. With Kyrgyzstan in the middle of its current plan, hopefully, positive change in the air quality will result in positive change.

– David Keenan
Photo: Flickr

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