A cyclist wearing a face mask in an attempt to protect himself from air pollution STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Neglected Menace of Pollution

With leadership, resources, and well-formulated data-driven strategies, pollution – and its devastating effects on human health, wellbeing, and prosperity – can be controlled. The process will not be easy, and will meet fierce opposition worldwide from vested interests, but it cannot be delayed any longer.

NEW YORK – Pollution is one of the great existential challenges of the twenty-first century. It threatens the stability of ecosystems, undermines economic development, and compromises the health of billions of people. Yet it is often overlooked, whether in countries’ growth strategies or in foreign-aid budgets, like those of the European Commission and the US Agency for International Development. As a result, the threat continues to grow.

The first step toward mobilizing the resources, leadership, and civic engagement needed to minimize the pollution threat is to raise awareness of its true scale. That is why we formed the LancetCommission on pollution and health: to marshal comprehensive data on pollution’s health effects, estimate its economic costs, pinpoint its links to poverty, and propose concrete approaches to addressing it.

Last October, we published a report that does just that. We found that pollution is responsible for nine million deaths per year, or 16% of all deaths globally. That is three times more than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, and 15 times more than all wars, terrorism, and other forms of violence. In the most severely affected countries, pollution is responsible for more than one in four deaths.

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