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Preventing premature deaths by reducing air pollution exposure

Dr Audil Rashid

SUSTAINING safe thresholds for public exposure to air pollution is a global challenge. Growing urbanization and migration towards cities has worsened breathing air qualities in cities. Consequently, unprecedented risks to urban population are imminent leading to overwhelming health problems and casualties. WHO estimates 4.2 million premature deaths annually that are directly attributed to environmental exposures, out of that air pollution in on top. Although several nations have taken effective steps to combat air pollution however, the most prominent example is China. Significant improvement is made by Chinese government in the past decade which reflects the serious attitude of both the people and government in setting nationwide goals for air pollution prevention and control. Beijing city prior to 2008 Olympic Games was confronted with huge problem of traffic fumes and sulfur-dioxide release from plants. However, with political will and research direction, air pollution in most cities of China has now reduced from drastic to a tolerable level. Other countries especially developing nations like Pakistan need to learn from approach used by China to curtail air pollution. Noteworthy footsteps of successful approach adopted by China includes initiation of policies and programs to promote electric cars, switching to extra proficient fuels and engines, lessening in industrial productivity, shutting down of coal plants, increasing public transportation and many more.
Trade route between China and Pakistan has several implications directly linked with vehicular emission due to rising traffic on Silk Road. Perhaps it is the most prominent example of international trade in which high priority was set to minimize contaminant release in air especially along Karakorum Highway which connects Arabian Sea port of Gwadar in Pakistan to China’s Xinjiang region. Several key features are notable in making logistic network less harmful for environment. This entails installing various components primarily aiming low emissions for CO2 (25%), NOx (22%) and reactive organic gasses 40% by bringing policy reforms such as mandatory installation of newer and cleaner engines use of cleaner fuel for heavy duty vehicles.
At domestic front, China also significantly improved its air quality by implementing various changes at commercial level. At domestic level, urban municipalities in China have successfully convinced most of households to quit furnaces and coal stoves and also created watchdogs for citizens by assembling the data of air quality from numerous observing stations to make it possible for public to notice air quality and report any violations with their smart phones. China also shifted large number of their coal-fired electricity plants into wind and solar power plants by investing heavy amount. The Chinese national government in March 2017 announced gradual closure of 103 coal-fired power plants which proved substantially helpful in drastic reduction of public exposure to air pollution thereby making the citizens less vulnerable to respiratory illnesses. Global mortality estimates reveal that causes of early death show a discrepancy from region to region. Premature death occurs when a person dies before an average age. Strong association exists between premature deaths with poor health conditions, lower income and illiteracy as these factors are closely linked with the environmental exposure. Pakistan is struggling to lower down its infant or child mortality which is relatively high compared to other Asian countries. The epidemiological transition in Pakistan has focused environmental exposure to address this issue. China on the other hand being authoritarian country comes to grip its health epidemics which were haunting two decades earlier. The impressive performance-based multifaceted approach has enabled the Chinese government to keep on delivering tangible progress in improving public health status including significant decrease in premature deaths.
— The writer is freelance columnist, with degree from Peking University, China.