Study: Air pollution kills 35,000 a year in Egypt, with dust the biggest culprit

More than 3.3 million people worldwide die prematurely each year due to outdoor air pollution, according to a study published last week in the journal Nature. And with an estimated 35,000 deaths linked to outdoor air pollution in 2010, Egypt had the 11th highest death toll.

The international team of researchers, led by Jos Lelieveld of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, based their findings on ground and satellite measurements, which they used to calculate the concentration of particulates in air pollution.

Chronic exposure to these particulates is linked to heart disease, lung cancer and other respiratory conditions.

The study also projected that without major changes in policies and practices, the number of pollution-related deaths could double by 2050.

Worldwide, the researchers estimate that five people out of 10,000 die prematurely because of outdoor air pollution. This figure excludes deaths from indoor air pollution, primarily caused by cooking fuel, which the researchers say would double the overall death toll.

With an estimated population of 78 million in 2010, Egypt fell below the global average, with about 4.5 out of 10,000 people dying due to air pollution.

However, with 6,000 premature deaths linked to outdoor air pollution in 2010, Cairo ranked seventh among the world’s deadliest cities for air pollution. But the study listed Cairo’s population at 12.5 million in 2010, indicating that it does not include the city’s greater metropolitan area.

Figures for Egypt were dwarfed by China and India, which have both massive populations and serious air pollution problems, skewing the overall global average. In China, over 1.3 million deaths per year were linked to air pollution, while India had more than 645,000 deaths, according to the researchers’ calculations.

The study also found that different sources of air pollution have greater and lesser impacts depending on the ecological and economic conditions of a particular country or region.

Worldwide, residential and commercial energy use are the deadliest sources of air pollution, linked to almost a third of outdoor pollution-related deaths. Agriculture, industry, land traffic and power generation also play a major role.

By contrast, the researchers estimate that 92 percent of pollution-related deaths in Egypt were linked to airborne desert dust. Most of this dust is a natural feature of life in a desert environment, but the paper notes that a fraction is due to agricultural practices and desertification.

Power generation and agriculture also played a smaller but significant role in pollution-related mortality in Egypt, accounting for 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Another recent study published in the journal Science Advances last month, which was also also led by Lelieveld, found that at least one kind of pollutant, nitrogen oxides, have been declining in Egypt since 2010. 

However, this more recent research suggests that even a steep decline in nitrogen oxides would have limited impact on pollution-related deaths in Egypt, since most are attributable to dust rather than the human activities that lead to nitrogen oxide emissions.


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