The world’s governments have pledged to build a better future where no one is left behind, yet the most basic conditions for people to survive and thrive are out of reach for many. Over 90 per cent of us breathe dirty air and over 90 per cent of those who die as a result are in low- and middle-income countries, with women and young children disproportionally affected.
It is a cruel irony that the wealthiest in society -- who benefit most from the activities that pollute our environment – have the most options to avoid the impacts. The poorest – who rely most on our environment for food, water, shelter and income – have the least access to safe alternatives. This creates a destructive cycle of poor health, poverty, inequality and migration that is hard to break.
Hard, but not impossible. For example, up to three billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple solid fuel stoves, leading to the deaths from respiratory disease of over four million people a year. Yet simple, inexpensive technology can save and transform those lives. Take Gokhari Solanki, a young woman from Temla village in the Jhabua District of India’s Madhya Pradesh State. When she first saw a solar cooker, she didn’t think it would be easy to use or very effective. However, the team at the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women in Indore provided the training and support to change her mind – and her life. This solar cooker training is part of a wider vocational programme that has benefitted some 7,000 women and the 600 villages they live in. It’s the kind of ground-level technology transfer that is gaining traction, but which we need to scale up much more quickly.
We spend $5 trillion a year on healthcare because of air pollution. Yet investing that in the kind of technologically and commercially viable solutions already available would slow, perhaps even reverse, our ever-decreasing cycles of poverty and vulnerability. In doing so, we would not only improve health and create decent jobs, we would create more stable communities and more sustainable economic growth.
A clean environment is not a luxury. It must be a right, and it is a massive opportunity for sustainable social and economic development. Please, join the millions determined to beat pollution and register your pledge at http://beat-pollution/