How do we tackle air pollution for healthy people and a healthy planet?
Climate change and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are two defining challenges of the 21st century, each posing significant threats to health and sustainable development. Globally, air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths each year, including more than 5 million caused by NCDs related to air pollution (1). This makes air pollution the second leading cause of deaths from NCDs.
The WHO estimates that 9 out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits and contains high levels of pollutants, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures (2). Worldwide, 1.8 billion people under the age of 15 breathe air that is so polluted that it risks their health and development (3). Children and young people are more affected by air pollution than adults, and long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to changes in brain structure which may disrupt learning and cognition. In addition to cardiovascular- and respiratory-related NCDs, evidence is emerging of other effects of air pollution, such as diabetes, neurological development issues in children and neurological problems in adults, according to WHO (4).
As part of its response to these issues, AstraZeneca is proud to support the Lead2030 Challenge for SDG 3. This Challenge welcomed scalable, youth-led solutions that tackle the causes of air pollution to improve the long term health of young people.
Many crops produce residues that cannot be used as mulch or animal feed. These residues can often impede the growth of the next crop and unfortunately the fastest and cheapest way to address residue removal is simply by setting it on fire in the field. However, burning residues has been attributed to air pollution that affects the respiratory health not only of the local farming communities, but also of nearby urban centers such as Delhi (5). Recent studies have estimated that this leads to as many as 1 in 8 deaths in countries such as India, and reduces the affected population’s life expectancy by around 5.3 years (6).
Takachar is developing small-scale, low-cost, portable systems that can latch onto the back of tractors and pick-up trucks to deploy to remote, hard-to-access communities. This system can locally convert biomass residues into higher-value products such as fertilizer blends, biofuels, or chemicals without any external energy input. This is expected to support closed-loop, self-sufficient rural communities, create additional livelihood opportunities in underserved regions, reduce air pollution and carbon footprint associated with open-air biomass burning, and ultimately improve public health outcomes.