China, India account for half world's pollution deaths in 2015: study

PHOTO: Reuters

China and India accounted for more than half of the total number of global deaths attributable to air pollution in 2015, a study published on Tuesday said.

Research by the US-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) showed that air pollution caused more than 4.2 million early deaths worldwide in 2015, making it the fifth highest cause of death, with around 2.2 million deaths in China and India alone.

The institute, which has also launched an online database showing the global impact of pollution on health (www.stateofglobalair.org), said 92 per cent of the world's population lives in areas with unhealthy air.

Air pollution has been linked to higher rates of cancer, stroke and heart disease, as well as chronic respiratory conditions like asthma.

Smog blankets northeast China

  • More than 40 cities in China's northeast have issued pollution warnings in the past 48 hours after being blanketed by heavy smog.
  • Air quality index (AQI) readings at some monitoring stations in Tianjin, a port and industrial city southeast of Beijing, peaked above 400.
  • China's environmental watchdog issued a five-day warning on Friday about choking smog spreading across the northeast.
  • The authority also ordered factories to shut, recommended residents stay indoors and curbed traffic and construction work.
  • Pollution alerts have become increasingly common in China's northern industrial heartland, especially during winter when energy demand - much of it met by coal - skyrockets.
  • In addition, heavy winds force pollution from nearby provinces to the Beijing-Tianjin area where it remains suspended over the cities.
  • Beijing's city government ordered 1,200 factories near the Chinese capital, including a major oil refinery run by state oil giant Sinopec, to shut or cut output on Saturday.
  • On Saturday, 22 cities issued red alerts including top steelmaking city Tangshan in Hebei province around Beijing, and Jinan in coal-rich Shandong province.
  • Red alerts are issued when the AQI is forecast to exceed 200 for more than four days in succession, 300 for more than two days or 500 for at least 24 hours.
  • Tianjin was placed on orange alert - the second highest level - on Sunday.
  • In Beijing, the city's Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre showed air quality readings of above 300 in some parts on Sunday (Dec 18) afternoon.
  • But the index was below 200 in most parts of the Chinese capital.
  • "When I went out yesterday I didn't wear a mask and my throat really hurt and I felt dizzy. It was hard to breathe through my nose," Chen Xiaochong, a hotel manager in the capital, told Reuters
  • A man swims in a lake in smog during a heavily polluted day in Beijing.
  • The forbidden city is seen in smog during a heavily polluted day.

China and India, the world's two most populated nations, each accounted for 1.1 million deaths, the findings showed, but China is now pushing ahead when it comes to taking action, HEI president Dan Greenbaum told Reuters.

"(India) has got a longer way to go, and they still appear to have some ministers who say there is not a strong connection between air pollution and mortality in spite of quite a lot of evidence," he said.

China's authorities have also been reluctant to draw direct links between air pollution and mortality, with the country's health ministry saying it had "no data" linking smog to higher incidences of cancer.

"It is currently too early to draw conclusions about the extent of the impact of smog on health, especially its long-term impact on the body," a ministry spokesman told domestic media during a press briefing in January.

In a long-term national healthcare plan published last October, the government acknowledged the link between health and pollution, and pledged to assess the precise impacts as well as boost environmental monitoring capabilities.

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