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Air pollution is both a local and a trans-boundary problem caused by the emission of certain pollutants which either alone, or through chemical reaction lead to negative environmental and health impacts. It can be defined as the introduction of unwanted chemicals, biological materials or particulate matter that has the potential to cause harm or discomfort to any living organism or to the natural environment that sustains all life .
In relation to health, ground level ozone and particulate matter are the pollutants that have emerged as the most pressing cause of concern. Air pollution is slowly becoming a priority issue with regards to the mankind’s future. Some of the main pollutants that cause air pollution are Sulfur oxides, Nitrogen oxides, Carbon monoxide, Carbon dioxide, Volatile organic compounds, Particulate matter, Toxic metals, Chlorofluorocarbons, Ammonia, Radioactive pollutants and ground level ozone. Unfortunately, almost all the pollutants are byproducts of human activities and are extremely difficult to control. Today, we are seeing the effects of unchecked air pollution all around us. Many countries are finally grasping the dire situation facing us and are finally taking measures to check rising air pollution.
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Significance of Air Pollution
According to the World Health Organization, about 2.4 million people die each year from causes directly related to air pollution and out of those 2.4 million, 1, 5 million die due to indoor air pollution (WHO, 2002). A study in America has shown that about half a million people die each year from cardiopulmonary disease that is caused by breathing extremely fine particles that are toxic (Dollemore, 2008). Another study in England has shown a strong connection between pneumonia and air pollution by motor vehicles (Rosberg, 2008). The unfortunate reality is that all over the world more people die due to air pollution than to automobile accidents.
There are various ways in which air pollutants affect health ranging from biochemical and physiological changes to difficulty in breathing, inflammation of the eyes and nasal cavity and respiratory problems. Air pollution has drastically shortened the life span and many people are dying prematurely. Also in some cases, severe and repeated exposure to air pollutants is causing changes in the individual’s genome leading to cancer and other mutations . It causes decreased productivity and in the long term, costs a lot of problems to a country’s economy. Another major result of air pollution is global warming which is the number one cause of concern for all nations today.
Challenges towards tackling Air Pollution
All nations are now taking the problem of increasing air pollution seriously. However, we still have a long way to go. Some of the major challenges that we face while trying to tackle the issue of air pollution are ignorance, political indifference and human inefficiency and neglect.
Ignorance forms one of the biggest obstacles in tackling air pollution. A huge number of people still do not take the threat of increasing air pollution seriously partly because of their indifferent nature and partly due to the lack of widespread information on such issues . The various governments still are not educating their respective masses on the cause and effects of air pollution.
Political bureaucracy also is another major obstacle. Not a single country is willing to share the responsibility of the effects of air pollution. Even though nations like US and China are the biggest polluters, they are still reluctant to take tougher measures to reduce air pollution as they fear the cost to their respective economies. All the nations are trying to blame each other and even though events such as 2009 Copenhagen summit show that nations are trying to tackle the issue, it is hopelessly not enough.
Health policy refers to decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific health care goals within a society. An explicit health policy can achieve several things: it defines a vision for the future which in turn helps to establish targets and points of reference for the short and medium term. It outlines priorities and the expected roles of different groups; and it builds consensus and informs people.
There are certain policies which the governments can use to combat air pollution. First of all, complete cooperation is required from all nations. One of their first policies must be towards educating the general public on the cause and harmful effects of air pollution. Unless the people are educated on this issue, it would be very difficult to initiate schemes at the grass root level which is absolutely necessary. The governments must give certain policies that force the people to take individual responsibility and do their part in cutting down air pollution.
Secondly stricter emission norms must be enforced throughout the world on all sectors including manufacturing industries, automobiles etc. In addition to this, the respective governments must take steps to ensure that such policies are not flouted .
Another policy that the governments could take is developing a nations public transport infrastructures and urging more people to depend on them instead of private transport. This is an area that will see huge rewards if implemented and followed properly . Also the governments must agree upon a common mandate for all nations that has to be followed strictly.
Air pollution continues to diminish the health and quality of life of all citizens as well as the natural environment. The magnitude of these effects is too large to ignore and doing nothing more beyond implementing existing legislation is not a sensible option. Air pollution is a global problem and therefore requires a global solution. Such a solution is only possible if both the developed world and the developing world come together. Unfortunately this does not seem to be happening as the developed nations are trying to shift blame on the developing nations when they should accept their responsibility.
More research is necessary in order to better understand all the effects of air pollution and it will also give us better ways to handle this issue. Every day wasted is hurting the future generations. Objectives must be set and strictly followed if we are to combat this problem.
Dollemore, D. (2008, August 17). Newly detected air pollutant mimics damaging effects of cigarette smoke. Retrieved September 29, 2010, from www.eurekalert.org
Rosberg, J. (2008, April 15). Study links traffic pollution to thousands of deaths. The Guardian .
WHO. (2002). Estimated deaths & DALYs attributable to selected environmental risk factors. United Nations: WHO.
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