Air pollution hangs over the city of Toluca, Mexico
Air pollution hangs over the city of Toluca, Mexico

New Report Analyzes Impacts of Air Pollution on Public Health in Latin America from 2020 to 2030

By Lindsey Spanner

Air pollution is a major issue in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), where its impacts not only contribute to climate change, but also create major health risks for those living in the region.

In LAC, air pollution is consistently one of the top three leading causes of death. Limited access to clean air increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute lower respiratory infections, and lung cancer. Rural and Indigenous communities are more vulnerable to the health implications of air pollution, specifically indoor air pollution, due to limited access to clean cooking technologies. Because women are most often responsible for cooking in their households, they are particularly affected. Children are also at increased risk. For example, cooking with traditional cookstoves and solid fuels is associated with a 30 percent increase in severe pneumonia among children less than 18 months, while  the use of cleaner cookstoves is associated with a 25 percent decrease in respiratory symptoms and attention deficits in children 2–14 years old.

Solutions exist to mitigate the environmental and health risks of air pollution in LAC. A social enterprise in Honduras, where 81 percent of rural households use firewood for cooking, is providing cleaner cooking technologies to help vulnerable communities avoid indoor air pollution. Mirador is a franchise-like social enterprise system that  encourages entrepreneurs to build improved biomass stoves that account for customers’ preferences. The entrepreneurs are paid to build durable, cost-effective stoves that meet families’ cooking needs. After training the families on how to use the stoves, Mirador monitors and maintains them to encourage their continued use. The families share the cost of the stoves by providing materials and time instead of cash. This model also helps remove barriers to their access and use. Mirador has installed nearly 200,000 biomass cookstoves, leading to a 79 percent reduction in carbon monoxide and particulate matter. Just one stove saves the planet 15 tons of carbon pollution.

Mirador’s solution serves as an example of how donors like USAID can address the negative health impacts of climate change in the region. USAID’s recently released Environment and Energy Landscape in Latin America and the Caribbean Trends Analysis focuses on five key environmental and energy trends likely to affect LAC over the next 10 years:

  1. Increased exploitation of natural resources
  2. Increased planetary health issues
  3. Increased adoption of climate adaptation
  4. Increased access and use of modern energy sources
  5. Expanded use of market-based mechanisms for environmental management and conservation

The report, compiled by the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean Regional and Sustainable Development Environment Team, recommends a holistic, cross-sectoral approach to reduce environment related health issues in LAC and offers several specific suggestions for how USAID can work with the public, private, civil, and academic sectors, including:  

  • Support economic opportunities for communities whose economic insecurity forces them to engage in activities related to environmental health risks, such as deforestation, hunting wildlife, and driving highly polluting cars. 
  • Implement monitoring stations to have real time data on air pollution levels. 
  • Implement policies to reduce emission and environmental degradation.
  • Develop more sustainable, energy-efficient appliances.

In addition to the full report, a summary report provides a high-level overview of the five trends, including increased planetary health issues.

Carbon, Emissions, Low Emission Development, Health
Latin America & Caribbean
Lindsey Spanner Headshot

Lindsey Spanner

Environmental Incentives Communications Associate, LAC ESSC

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