Socioeconomic implications of air pollutionAir pollution is commonly understood as an environmental issue. In the U.S., pollution is most commonly tested using the Air Quality Index. The AQI measures air pollution based upon ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide levels. Air pollution causes a number of health risks such as cancer and respiratory infections. In 2016, an estimated 4.2 million people died prematurely due to air pollution. Often, the effects of environmental issues have more consequences for the poor. Thus, concerns stemming from air pollution are not just environmental but also socioeconomic.

Who is affected?

About 90 percent of premature deaths by air pollution occur in low-middle income areas. This issue disproportionately affects lower-income households for many reasons. For one, impoverished homes are often dependent upon energy sources such as coal and wood. The burning of these fossil fuels contaminates the air with carbon dioxide emissions and creates indoor pollution. A lack of finances can also result in the absence of healthcare. Without early treatment, people dealing with infections related to air pollution are more likely to suffer fatal consequences.

Research shows that this disparity supports social discrimination. A study in 2016 reports: “The risk of dying early from long-term exposure to particle pollution was higher in communities with larger African-American populations, lower home values, and lower median income”. Minority groups often face prejudice in places such as employment. On average, a black woman makes 61 cents per dollar earned by a white male counterpart. In sum, minority groups ordinarily earn lower wages. This prohibits them from buying more expensive renewable resources.

The largest effects of air pollution take place in the World Health Organization’s South-East Asia and Western-Pacific regions. These regions are primarily occupied by developing nations. With a lack of financial resources, these countries resort to cheap and environmentally unsustainable practices. For example, the slash-and-burn technique is a method used by farmers and large corporations. This technique involves clearing land with intentional fires, which raises carbon dioxide levels.

What are the implications?

When considering the socioeconomic implications of air pollution, it is important to note all of the key facts. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The WHO has declared air pollution as the number one health hazard caused by environmental degradation. Air pollution can cause ischaemic heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.
  • Worldwide, 1 in 8 people dies due to the effects of air pollution. In 2018, 7 million people passed away because of infections relating to air quality.

Who is helping?

Air pollution should not be overlooked as a serious issue. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a significant movement to combat poor air quality. For example, China has a reputation for being heavily polluted. However, in 2015, the Chinese government was the world’s lead investor in renewable energy. The government invested $26.7 billion in renewable resources, which was twice the amount that the U.S. invested that same year. Furthermore, between the years 2010 and 2015, particle pollution levels in China decreased by 17 percent.

Organizations such as Greenpeace have advocated for better policies surrounding environmental degradation. In 2013, the Chinese government released the Clean Air Action Plan which set forth the initial progress in combating air pollution. Nevertheless, in 2017, Greenpeace recorded that while particle pollution levels continued to decrease, progress had significantly declined. Greenpeace is now urging the government to produce a new plan to further challenge air pollutants.

Air pollution is harmful to the global ecosystem but it also has a profound impact on society. In order to fully understand the consequences of this issue, one must consider the ways in which environmental degradation targets specific groups. The contamination of the environment, or more specifically the air, often affects minorities and the poorest people. Thus, air pollution should be a top priority not only for environmentalists but also for social activists. Luckily, governments are already seeking plans to prevent the outcome of air pollution. By contributing to organizations such as Greenpeace, everyone can advocate for better policies and regulations against the socioeconomic implications of air pollution.

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The instability of the Ecuadorian economy carries broader implications on the health of citizens nationwide.

Ecuador is a developing country highly dependent on the export of petroleum and agricultural products for economic growth. Although the country has seen improvements in its health care system through the efforts of President Rafael Correa since 2007, many public hospitals are in poor condition and often lack necessary supplies to tend to the high demand of patients. Private hospitals and clinics, on the other hand, are well equipped but too expensive for a large part of the population.

Mumps and Tetanus

Several common diseases in Ecuador continue to take a toll on the population. Mumps and tetanus are just two examples. According to the World Health Organization, the number of reported mumps cases in Ecuador has increased and remained relatively constant since 1980. While 799 cases were reported in 2012, approximately 1,400 cases have been reported on average from 2013 to 2016. The number of tetanus cases has also increased since 2012, from 27 to 52 last year. These, however, are the least of the country’s problems.

Communicable Diseases

Many common diseases in Ecuador are communicable diseases. The World Health Organization reports that 18 percent of all 81,000 deaths in 2016 resulted from communicable diseases and nutritional conditions. Due to environmental conditions, smoking habits and malnutrition, tuberculosis is one of the most common health problems in Ecuador.

The World Health Organization documents approximately 14,000 cases annually. Hepatitis A and typhoid fever are the most common diseases transmitted through food and water. Yellow fever, dengue and malaria are the most common diseases transmitted by insects, especially mosquitos. Dengue fever is particularly common in all regions of the country, as no immunization or specific treatment currently exists.

Non-communicable Diseases

Non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease also negatively affect Ecuador’s population. The World Bank found that the mortality rate per 100,000 people from non-communicable diseases increased an average of 1.5 percent each year since 1990. The World Health Organization reported that in 2016, cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular disease accounted for 46 percent of all deaths.

Smoking and alcohol were the two most prevalent risk factors, alongside dietary issues caused by high intakes of sodium and low intakes of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and proteins.


Indeed, nutrition or rather, lack thereof, is another one of Ecuador’s major health issues and is often a root cause of many common diseases in Ecuador. In 2006, roughly 25.8 percent of children under 5 years old suffered from chronic malnutrition, and in 2013, government data showed the rate of chronic malnutrition in children under 5 years old remained at approximately 26 percent. This trend most directly relates to Ecuador’s ongoing socioeconomic disparities and status as a developing nation.

Today, a decade after Correa took office, Ecuador’s public health care system is ranked as one of the best in South America. Since Correa’s health care policies have been implemented, the government has constructed over 46 health centers and 12 hospitals throughout the country. The number of free consultations has also increased from 20.3 million in 2007 to 39 million in 2015.

Visiting a general practitioner costs only $25 to $35 while visiting a specialist costs as low as $30 to $40, and a thirty-minute session with a psychiatrist costs just $30 to $50. Outpatient surgeries cost around $125.

Given the prevalence of certain non-communicable and communicable diseases. However, much still needs to be done before citizens are guaranteed equal standards of health care across all socioeconomic barriers.

Katherine Wang

Photo: Flickr