Pollution kills 1 in 12 Greeks. Time for a massive clean up act.

Around the world, millions of deaths are attributed to air, water, soil and workplace pollution.

By Georgia Logothetis, Managing Director

A recent study finds that 8% of deaths in Greece each year may be attributed to pollution, a grim statistic that underscores the urgent need for environmental reforms in Greece and around the world.

Globally, 1 in 6 deaths may be attributed to pollution, the study finds:

Pollution kills at least nine million people and costs trillions of dollars every year, according to the most comprehensive global analysis to date, which warns the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”.

Toxic air, water, soils and workplaces are responsible for the diseases that kill one in every six people around the world, the landmark report found, and the true total could be millions higher because the impact of many pollutants are poorly understood. The deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies.

In Greece, “of about 122,000 deaths in 2015, approximately 9,800 are related to pollution. Of these, 7,216 are related to air pollution, 257 to water pollution and 1,422 to polluted workplaces.”

“Pollution is one of the great existential challenges of the [human-dominated] Anthropocene era,” concluded the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health, published in the Lancet on Friday. “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.”

Although it may be difficult to discern from the taste of the air in overcrowded Athens, overall, Greece had been making progress on pollution before the crisis hit (Greece banned diesel cars in Athens and Thessaloniki, and “as a consequence nitrogen dioxide from traffic approximately halved alongside Greek roads between 1996 and 2006, in contrast to the lack of improvement elsewhere in Europe.”) But the ban was lifted in 2012. The increase in diesel traffic, plus the fact that many Greeks turned to burning wood for heat amid soaring heating costs means that Greece has backtracked significantly in its attempts to curb air pollution — the type of pollution that accounts for the most pollution-related deaths in that country.

The Greek Ministry of Environment and Energy has called for a comprehensive — not piecemeal approach — to saving the environment. What’s clear is that this isn’t a Greek problem, or a European problem, or an industrialized nation problem. Countries don’t exist in vacuum, and collective, concerted action is needed if the world is to address these pollution-caused illnesses and deaths. As Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has said:

This world is not just a gift from God; it is a challenge for humanity. We have at last come to learn the truth that we have mistreated the natural environment and its resources. The consequences are plain and painful. They are evident in the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the food that we consume, the emotional and physical problems that we face in our health, but also in our relationships with each other on the local, regional, national and global levels.

The challenge for humanity is addressing this pollution crisis with the urgency it deserves, and saving lives across the world in the process.

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