Wild fires kill 339 000 people a year
Vancouver - Wildfires, peat fires and controlled burns on farming lands kill 339 000 people worldwide each year, said a study released on Saturday that is the first to estimate a death toll for landscape fires.
Most of those deaths are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 157 000 people die as a result of being exposed to such fires annually, with southeast Asia ranking second with 110 000 deaths.
"I was surprised at our estimate being so high when you consider that the exposure to fire smoke is quite intermittent for most people," said lead author Fay Johnston of the University of Tasmania.
"Even in southeast Asia and Africa, [fire] is a seasonal phenomenon. It is not year round," Johnston said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Vancouver where she presented her research.
The study, which Johnston said was the first of its kind to attempt to estimate a death toll from wildfires and grass burns, was published on Saturday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Researchers looked at the number of deaths from all causes in areas that were exposed to heavy smoke and landscape fire.
The number of deaths from wildfires came in far below the previously estimated global tolls for indoor air pollution at two million people per year and urban air pollution at 800 000.
However, the study authors said their findings indicated that "fire emissions are an important contributor to global mortality".
Furthermore, about twice as many people died during El Nino years when the surface ocean temperature rises in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean (averaging 532, 00) as during cooler La Nina years (averaging 262 000), suggesting a significant link between climate and fire mortality.