Dirty Air Air pollution costs global economy $5.1 trillion, World Bank says

The study, quoting available estimates in 2013, said China lost close to 10% of its GDP, India 7.69% and Sri Lanka and Cambodia approximately 8%.

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play World Bank: each year, more than 5.5 million around the world die prematurely from illnesses caused by breathing polluted air. (© Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters)
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Air pollution costs the global economy some 5.1 trillion dollars annually and slows economic development in poor countries, a World Bank report on the study of air pollution has said.

The study, quoting available estimates in 2013, said China lost close to 10% of its GDP, India 7.69% and Sri Lanka and Cambodia approximately 8%.

“Developed countries,” the report said, “are losing billions of dollars a year through lost work days and welfare cost from premature deaths. It said pollution cost the economies of UK $7.6bn (£5.6bn) a year, the US $45bn and Germany $18bn.”

In addition, it said each year, more than 5.5 million around the world die prematurely from illnesses caused by breathing polluted air.

“Those illnesses include lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, acute respiratory infections, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema.”

It said exposure to air pollution is now the fourth leading fatal health risk worldwide behind metabolic risks, dietary risks, and tobacco smoke.

This, the report said, is more than six times as many people die from air pollution each year as from malaria, and more than four times as many die from air pollution as from HIV/AIDS.

The reported, titled “The Cost of Air Pollution: Strengthening the economic case for action,” said if deaths across all age groups were analyzed "through the lens of 'welfare losses'" then the aggregate global cost of early deaths in 2013 was over $5 trillion.

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Drawing on a World Health Organisation data in 2013, the report said premature deaths alone cost the global economy about $225 billion in lost work days. The estimates do not include the costs of treating illnesses linked to pollution.

In addition, about 90 percent of the population in low and middle-income countries are exposed to dangerous levels of ambient air pollution, the report added.

“The health risk posed by air pollution is the greatest in developing countries,” said the report. “In 2013 about 93 percent of deaths and non-fatal illnesses attributed to air pollution worldwide occurred in these countries, where 90 percent of the population was exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.”

One of the lead author of the study, Urvashi Narain, said the cost of air pollution to the global economy could have been higher if health costs were calculated.

The figure could be very much more if it included health costs. We did not include the costs of [morbidity] illnesses caused by pollution,” said lead author and senior environmental economist for the World Bank, Narain. “The scale of the problem is truly daunting. The poor are more likely to live in polluted areas and are less able to access healthcare,” she said.

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