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Air pollution challenge

Manila Standard

Air pollution in the Philippines, the third highest risk factor driving death and disability due to non-communicable diseases, remains the leading environmental risk to health.

Vehicle emissions, fuel oils and natural gas to heat homes, by-products of manufacturing and power generation, particularly coal-fueled power plants, and fumes from chemical production are the primary sources of human-made air pollution.

Environmental experts say the combined effects of ambient air pollution and household air pollution are associated with 6.7 million premature deaths annually.

Household air pollution exposure leads to noncommunicable diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

The two most common types of air pollution are smog and soot, caused by burning of fossil fuels like coal or natural gases. The small airborne particles present in soot or smog are extremely dangerous, as they enter lungs and blood and can lead to bronchitis and heart diseases which can be fatal.

Pollutants with the strongest evidence for public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

People living in low- and middle-income countries disproportionately experience the burden of outdoor air pollution with 89 percent (of the 4.2 million premature deaths) occurring in these areas. The greatest burden is found in the WHO Southeast Asia and Western Pacific Regions.

Around 2.4 billion people cook and heat their homes with polluting fuels and every year 3.2 million people die prematurely from household air pollution.

Ambient and household air pollution can come from similar processes such as incomplete combustion of fuels or

More than 99 percent of the population live in areas where the air pollution is above World Health Organization air quality guidelines and 4.2 million deaths are attributed to ambient air pollution each year.

Since 2000, following the passage of the country’s Clean Air Act, the Philippines is still nowhere near achieving comprehensive air pollution control.

The law, which outlines government measures to reduce air pollution, has failed to realize its promise as a sweeping measure against air pollution, as the Philippines still records emissions higher than the acceptable values.

The Washington-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation did a research which found that air pollution was responsible for 66,230 deaths in the Philippines in 2019, of which 64,920 deaths were estimated to be adults and 1,310 children.

This is significantly higher than previous estimates made for the country, aligning the impact with the most recent literature.

The corresponding economic cost of exposure to air pollution is estimated at P2.32 trillion (US$ 44.8 billion) in 2019, or a GDP equivalent of 11.9 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019.

Premature deaths account for most of the estimated economic cost at P2.2 trillion (US$ 42.8 billion).

The figures are disturbing.

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