The World Health Organization met in Haifa for the latest summit on Health and Environment on April 28, 2105, declaring Air Pollution is the sigle largest environmental risk in the world. Only in Europe Air Pollution is killing 600.000 people a year and costing US$ 1,6 trillion year in diseases and deaths.
Air pollution kills. If anyone still had any doubts, this has been confirmed by the latest data presented last April by WHO Europe and OCSE during a convention in Haifa, Israel, sounding as a warning bell and citing worrying numbers. Air pollution causes at least 7 million deaths every year throughout the world. (2012 estimate) Most of these are premature deaths linked to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. This is a real massacre that appears even more impressive when we break down the data according to geographic areas. There are 600.000 deaths every year in Europe that can be linked to pollution and 33.000 in Italy alone. This number is close to the number of alcohol-related deaths, but while alcoholism is a recognized addiction and is treated as such by health providers and the Ministry of Health, environmental pollution does not have the same consideration in the eye of the institutions. This is unfortunate, as the government should be interested in creating a safe and healthy environment for its citizens, for economic reasons if not for humanitarian ones. In fact, it is society as a whole that bears the cost for this silent massacre. The cost for pollution-related deaths worldwide in 2010 has been estimated in 3.5 trillions of US dollars. In Europe, health-related costs due to air and domestic pollution have risen from 1.384.794 million dollars in 2005 to 1.574.649 million dollars in 2010, although they have decreased slightly in Italy, from 98.612 million to 97.193. Speaking of percentages, we can say that in Italy the costs for pollution-related deaths have decreased from 5,73% to 4,7% between 2005 and 2010. Still, there is little to be happy about. Apart from the numbers we already mentioned, it is important to consider the diseases caused by air pollution, that make the costs rise to 1.600 million dollars in Europe alone. This is almost the same amount that every country spends every year in prevention and interventions, accounting for almost 20% of its gross domestic product. These numbers are just an estimate, and they are higher in European countries where the average income is lower, and where the death toll is five times higher than in countries where the average income is higher. This means that it would be in the best interest of every country to reduce air pollution, especially in this time of economic crisis, in order to avoid this massacre and to reduce spending, freeing up resources that could be used in other areas. This is one of the reasons why the next Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health for Europe, that will take place in Georgia in 2016, will have air quality among its topics. Regarding this topic, Christian Friis Bach and Zsuzsanna Jakab, respectively Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and WHO Europe Regional Director, have repeatedly emphasized that air and environmental pollutions are not problems that can be solved by a single country. Interaction, common strategies and a communion of intents should be the basis for a concrete action that aims to produce results in a reasonable timeframe. If we consider that today the main source of pollution is transportation, and how this relates to mobility between the countries (for example, freight transport in Europe is still based on trucking) and affects big cities (because of commuters), followed by industries and the energy sector, it is easy to understand how these are all areas that require a multi-country intervention. This is why, during the conference, WHO Europe presented these data and also updated the public about the trend of the five goals that it aims to reach by 2015 or 2020, and that were already established during the Conference on Environment and Health held in Parma in 2010. These five goals are: potable water, sustainable mobility, smoking bans in public places dedicated to children, creation of safe and healthy places where children can exercise, avoiding exposure to toxic agents and cancerogenic toxins and/or disease vectors. These are ambitious goals, especially considering that Europe has to deal not only with pollutions but also with climate change, which is mostly due to the emission of greenhouse gas and might cause more than 250.000 deaths every year by 2050. The first most alarming cause of pollution is asbestos, which is still used by one third of European countries, followed by radon and UV rays.
If we consider that according to a WHO study, more than 90% European citizens are exposed every year to a level of pollution agents that strongly exceeds the limits determined by WHO guidelines, it should not come as a surprise that the strongest advocates for an immediate action are doctors and pneumologists associations, together with associations and foundations that deal with cancer patients and pollution-related diseases.
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