Air pollution kills millions, costs $304 billion: World Bank

A policeman, wearing a mask against severe pollution, on duty in Beijing, on March 3, 2016.
A policeman, wearing a mask against severe pollution, on duty in Beijing, on March 3, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Air pollution has become the deadliest form of pollution in the world, killing millions of people whose deaths had led to a loss of US$225 billion (S$304 billion) in labour income in 2013, the World Bank citing a new study said on Thursday (Sept 8).

Diseases related to outdoor and household air pollution claimed an estimated 5.5 million lives in 2013 - the latest year for which global data are available - according to a joint study of the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Air pollution has become the fourth leading cause of premature deaths worldwide behind smoking, diet and obesity. People with long exposure to air pollution have a higher risk of getting illness such as lung cancer, stroke, heart disease and chronic bronchitis.

The study for the first time puts a "welfare losses" on the premature deaths of working-age men and women.

It finds that annual labour income losses cost the equivalent of almost 1 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in South Asia, and 0.61 per cent of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa. Losses in East Asia and the Pacific were lower but still significant.

The total cost of premature deaths, with all age groups counted, was more than US$5 trillion worldwide in 2013, the study claims.

"Air pollution is a challenge that threatens basic human welfare, damages natural and physical capital, and constrains economic growth," said Ms Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank.

"We hope this study will translate the cost of premature deaths into an economic language that resonates with policy makers so that more resources will be devoted to improving air quality," she added.