Poverty & Pollution: How to Reduce Air Pollution in Developing Countries

Even though there is air pollution in every country, developing countries with rapidly growing populations are more likely to have the short end of the stick when it comes to air pollution.

Global Air Quality

The World Health Organization released an updated global ambient air quality database stating that populations in low-income cities are the most impacted by poor air quality. The updated database shows that 97 percent of cities in low and middle-income countries do not meet the WHO air quality guidelines. This percentage drops greatly — to 49 percent — when looking at high-income countries.

WHO released a list ranking the particulate pollution in cities all around the world. On this list, 11 of the 12 cities were in India. This ranking doesn’t necessarily say that Kanpur, India has the worst air quality, but rather states that it has a higher risk of poor air quality.

But this data begs the question — why are India and many other developing countries so susceptible to poor air quality?

Developing Countries and Poor Air Quality

Two main issues that plague developing nations are that the government doesn’t have its sights set on cleaner energy, and renewable resources tend to be more expensive than cheap fossil fuels like coal. For example, in India, there are anti-pollution laws, but the government doesn’t enforce these laws well enough. “Outdoor air pollution is pretty much a governance problem,” said Kirk Smith, a professor of global environmental health at the University of California Berkeley.

The difficulty in India comes from scenarios where one major city bans a certain type of pollution source, but those in neighboring cities may not have banned this specific source — the pollution can then blow unimpeded over the perimeter. There needs to be coordination across cities to fix this issue. In India, this can be rather difficult due to the fact that the rural and urban politicians have fairly different constituencies.

Roughly seven million people die each year due to air pollution. Air pollution can cause diseases such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and respiratory infections.

More than 90 percent of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. Cities and national governments need to take action to reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution and to improve the overall quality of living. Here are three ways that cities and national governments can reduce air pollution in developing countries.

How To Reduce Air Pollution in Developing Countries

  1. Implement cleaner methods of transportation: Emissions from vehicles are a large driving factor in air pollution. When governments don’t regulate vehicle emissions the amount of pollution in the air will exponentially increase. There are many ways that governments can cut down on vehicle emissions. Offering buses and taxis allows more people in one vehicle instead of more vehicles on the road putting out emissions. Cities can also provide options for walking and cycling to improve air quality.
  2. Invest in energy efficient power generation: Another solution cities and governments can take is to provide energy efficient power. By producing power in an efficient and clean way, not only will the citizens be able to have power, but they will have clean air that will affect them more beneficially in the long run.
  3. Provide universal access to clean and affordable fuels: The majority of energy production in developing countries is produced by coal. This is also one of the most polluting energy sources out there. What makes moving coal out and another energy source in so difficult is that coal is cheap and affordable. Cities and governments need to ensure that the population has access to cheap and reliable energy.

While the government and city officials have much they could do to reduce air pollution in developing countries, there is also plenty that can be done on the individual level. Here are three ways a single person can make an impact on the air around them.

  1. Grow a garden: There are different plants that could be grown that give the air the nutrients it needs to be cleaner. There are also plants that eat harmful particulates in the air. Growing a garden is an easy way to take small steps towards creating cleaner air.
  2. Use public transportation: Taking public transportation is an easy way for someone to get to where they need to be without adding to the pollution around them and therefore cutting down on vehicle emissions. If public transportation isn’t available, cycling or walking are other great ways to help reduce air pollution in developing countries and local communities.
  3. Recycle: It takes more energy and natural resources to make new products for use. By using more energy and resources, the amount of air pollution produced also increases. The amount of energy and natural resources would be reduced by recycling previously used items.

Reducing air pollution would save lives and reduce the risks of many different diseases. Air pollution may seem like a formidable issue to tackle, but it can be both acknowledged and reduced.

Anyone can help reduce a small part of the air pollution around them. WHO released a challenge in May called “marathon a month.” This challenge calls for people to pledge to leave their personal transportation behind and use alternative transportation, like walking or cycling, for the equivalent of a marathon distance for one month.

Wherever someone may be, they can help those in their local community and in neighboring developing countries reduce air pollution and make the Earth a cleaner place.

– Victoria Fowler
Photo: Flickr