Environmental pollution—from filthy air to contaminated water—is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world. More than smoking, hunger, or natural disasters. More than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, reports the AP. One out of every six premature deaths in the world in 2015—about 9 million—could be attributed to disease from toxic exposure, according to a major study released Thursday in the Lancet. It notes this is only a partial estimate and the actual number of people killed by pollution is undoubtedly higher. The financial cost from pollution-related death, sickness, and welfare is equally massive, the report says, costing some $4.6 trillion in annual losses—or about 6.2% of the global economy.
The report finds 92% of pollution-related deaths occur in low- or middle-income countries, where policy makers are chiefly concerned with developing their economies, lifting people out of poverty, and building basic infrastructure. Environmental regulations in those countries tend to be weaker, and industries lean on outdated technologies and dirtier fuels. Asia and Africa are the regions putting the most people at risk, while India tops the list of individual countries, followed by China. Bangladesh, Pakistan, North Korea, South Sudan, and Haiti also see nearly a fifth of their premature deaths caused by pollution. In wealthier countries where overall pollution is not as rampant, it is still the poorest communities that are more often exposed, according to the 51-page report, which was compiled by 47 scientists, policy makers, and public health experts. (Read more pollution stories.)