According to new data released on Wednesday, people in poorer countries suffer disproportionately from air pollution caused by the global epidemic of forest and field fires.
Landscape fires can be planned or uncontrolled, like the wildfires that have torn through nations like Algeria, Canada, and Greece this year, and can occur in forests, shrubs, grass, pastures, and agricultural regions.
They produce smoke that can spread for tens of thousands of kilometers, increasing mortality and wreaking havoc on conditions related to the heart and lungs.
According to a study published in Lancet Planetary Health last year, ambient air pollution was responsible for around 4.5 million deaths in 2019.
In a recent study, published in the journal Nature, researchers estimated global daily amounts of small particles known as PM2.5 and surface ozone concentrations produced by landscape fires between 2000 and 2019. They did this using data, machine learning, and modeling.
They discovered that the yearly air pollution from landscape fires was almost four times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries, with the highest levels occurring in central Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and Siberia.
The risk of fire is rising as a result of rising temperatures linked to human-caused climate change.
The study’s co-author, Shandy Li, an associate professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, stated that because of warming, pollution “phenomena might be worse in the future.”
According to the research that is now available, fire smoke could raise health risks such as mortality and morbidity, hence she advised reducing exposure to fire air pollution.
Between 2010 and 2019, an additional 2.18 billion people per year, or over 7% more than the preceding decade, were exposed to at least one day of “substantial” air pollution caused by landscape fire sources.
This includes daily average PM2.5 levels that are over the 2021 WHO standards of 15 micrograms per cubic metre of air, with at least half of the total pollution coming from fire sources.
The average number of days per person exposed to “substantial” fire-derived air pollution in Africa was 32.5 per year, followed by 23.1 in South America.
In comparison, during the course of the decade, Europeans were exposed to around one day’s worth of significant pollution annually.
The five African nations with the highest yearly average number of days per person exposed to significant fire-sourced pollution were Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Congo-Brazzaville, and Angola.
Scientists claimed that improvements in air quality made over many years in the United States due to wildfire smoke in a second study that was also published in Nature on Wednesday.
Cities in wealthy nations also struggle with poor air quality that exceeds WHO standards, primarily as a result of pollution from industry, transportation, and heating systems.
The UN World Meteorological Organization claimed earlier this month that climate change was causing more severe and frequent heatwaves as well as a “witch’s brew” of pollution as a result.
Li noted that reducing extreme weather by addressing climate change will help to reduce the risk.
The researchers claimed that their findings presented additional proof of “climate injustice” because individuals who suffered the most from wildfires made more severe and frequent by human-induced climate change were those who bore the least responsibility for it.
They emphasized that adjustments to land management practices, including the burning of agricultural waste or fires intentionally ignited to convert wildland for agricultural or commercial uses, could also aid in reducing the size of fires.