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Air pollution causes more than 1.5 million deaths each year

INVC NEWS New Delhi ,

Air pollution causes more than 1.5 million deaths each year in South and Southeast Asia, but news and social media from a three-year period show poor public understanding of its major causes and the most promising solutions, concludes “Hazy Perceptions,” a new study from global health organization Vital Strategies.

“Public demand for good air quality is essential, but our report demonstrates that demand may be focused on the wrong interventions,” said Daniel Kass, Senior Vice President for Environmental Health at Vital Strategies. “It is critical that governments adopt clean air policies and that industries reduce emissions. ‘Hazy Perceptions’ can help us understand how to ensure citizens know more about the risks of chronic air pollution and the main culprits causing it, so people can push for the right kind of change. The analysis provided by this report also establishes an important baseline for measuring progress.”

The report used innovative research methods to collect and analyze more than a half-million pieces of news and social media in 11 countries from 2015 to 2018, revealing alarming public misconceptions about air pollution:

Public understanding of the long-term health consequences of poor air quality is low. News and social media posts largely mention short-term health impacts such as coughing or itchy eyes, far more than health threats caused by chronic exposure, such as cancer.

Health authorities are not among the most influential sources of information. Influencers on air pollution discourse are diverse and vary from year to year, but the analysis did not identify public health authorities among leading influencers.

Public discourse does not center on the most important drivers of air pollution. The most important sources of pollutants, such as household fuels, power plants and waste burning, draw less public concern than sources such as vehicular emissions.

Public discussions tend to focus on short-term remedies. Conversations about short-term personal protection such as wearing face masks are much more common than ones on long-term solutions such as bans on trash burning.

Conversation is driven by seasonal variations in air quality. Air pollution is most frequently discussed from September through December, when air quality is worsened by the winter season and crop burning practices adopted by farmers. This poses a challenge for engaging the public to support effective air pollution control, which requires year-round, sustained measures.

Emotionally appealing content generates the highest level of engagement. Social media posts and news articles on air pollution that mention children’s health or climate change produce more engagement than others.

"Credible and relevant data on air pollution is an important first step to educate the public and policy makers. Indian media has been slowly building its focus on better reporting of air quality in last few years. We started SAFAR  (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research) with the aim to provide science based advance information related to air quality and to increase awareness among general public in their city well in advance so that appropriate preventive steps, mitigation measures and systematic actions can be taken up for betterment of air quality and related health issues. It engineers awareness drive by educating public, prompting self-mitigation and also to help develop mitigation strategies for policy makers.

It is good to note that the report demonstrates how there is need to build further awareness on the impacts of poor air quality on health and ecosystem. Media and public awareness needs to focus on more extensive coverage of health and other  related benefits of clean air. They may also focus on practical solutions and partnering on air pollution control measures on sources of emissions like transport,  industry, power plants, resuspended dust, waste and biomass burning to be able to constructively contribute to advancing stronger decision support system on air quality management thereby bringing positive vibes which the nation needs, '' said Dr Gufran Beig, Project Director, SAFAR, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.

The recommendations in “Hazy Perceptions” are based on analysis of more than a half-million pieces of news and social media content for three years, from 2015 to 2018, in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Mongolia and Pakistan. The report recommends evidence-based communication campaigns to highlight the most significant sources of air pollution and to address the health harms of long-term exposure. Another critical step is ensuring that media professionals and key advocates for clean air are informed about credible data on the sources of air pollution, its health impact, and solutions.

“Data is the bedrock of impactful public policy,” said Ailun Yang, Head of Global Coal and Air Pollution at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “The crucial, data-driven insights provided by Vital Strategies will help us more effectively engage the public and policymakers on the issue of air pollution, one of today’s leading health concerns. Because of this collective effort, we will be able to better act on the knowledge and work to create a cleaner, healthier environment.”

Air pollution is a leading public health threat, contributing to lung and heart disease, cancer, diabetes and cognitive impairment. According to the World Health Organization, more than 4 million people die every year globally from exposure to outdoor air pollution, with nearly 40 percent of these deaths occurring in South and Southeast Asia.




 

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