Archive for January, 2016

Urban Air Pollution Is a Public Health Emergency

By , 22 January, 2016, No Comment

I’ve finally returned to Cambridge after spending the better part of 2015 conducting field research in India, South Africa and Kenya. With luck, I’ve now got all the data I need to finish my thesis, and I’m going to be chained to my desk from now until I finish writing it. Naturally, I am procrastinating by writing assorted other things instead, including my monthly blog at SciDev.net.

My most recent piece covers the air quality crisis affecting the developing world’s major cities. India, where I spent much of the summer, is home to many of the worst offenders, and Delhi is the most polluted city of all. I have been visiting Delhi regularly for the past decade, and the change is visible. Many a rickshaw journey consists of wondering exactly how the driver knows to break before crashing into a car in front of him, when neither he nor I can see the road in front of us. The situation in African cities is not as bad, but Nairobi, where I spent the fall, is getting there. Yet despite traveling regularly in the developing world, often in the company of asthma sufferers in my family and household, statistics saying pollution kills more people than HIV and malaria combined, still shock.

We are making progress, and huge credit is owed here to my mother, the incredible Shazia Z. Rafi, who campaigned successfully to get air quality targets included in the new Sustainable Development Goals. This should put pressure on governments, but it is not just a government problem. Urban air pollution in the developing world is a direct product of economic growth, of the fuel consumed both by industrial operations and the transport workers use to reach those new factories. Businesses who are driving this wave of industrialized urbanization bear some responsibility here. My piece, which you can read here, lays out some steps companies can take to clean up their act.

Back to the thesis now, I swear…