Seven million people die annually from polluted air – WHO

Seven million people die annually from polluted air – WHO

Air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

A new data from WHO shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

According to a press statement issued by the health organisation on Wednesday, at least seven million people die every year from inhaled ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said air pollution threatens everyone, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden.

“It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people, mostly women and children are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes.

“If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development,” he said.

According to WHO, the polluted air particles penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. It also causes respiratory infections, including pneumonia.

Data from the health organisation also shows that ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016.

Meanwhile, household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.

More than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa.

This is followed by low and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and America.

It also noted that about 3 billion people, which is more than 40 per cent of the world’s population still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes.

Cooking fuel are the main source of household air pollution.

WHO has been monitoring household air pollution for more than a decade.

“While the rate of access to clean fuels and technologies is increasing everywhere, improvements are not even keeping pace with population growth in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” it said.

WHO recognizes that air pollution is a critical risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated one-quarter (24 per cent) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25 per cent from stroke, 43 per cent from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29 per cent from lung cancer.

More than 4300 cities in 108 countries are now included in WHO’s ambient air quality database, making this the world’s most comprehensive database on ambient air pollution.

WHO said since 2016, more than 1000 additional cities have been added to WHO’s database which shows that more countries are measuring and taking action to reduce air pollution than ever before.

Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health, Social and Environmental Determinants of Health at WHO, said many of the world’s mega cities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than per cent times, representing a major risk to people’s health.

“We are seeing an acceleration of political interest in this global public health challenge. The increase in cities recording air pollution data reflects a commitment to air quality assessment and monitoring.

“Most of this increase has occurred in high-income countries, but we hope to see a similar scale-up of monitoring efforts worldwide.” she said.

The data indicates that major sources of air pollution from particulate matter include the inefficient use of energy by households, industry, the agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants.

In some regions, sand and desert dust, waste burning and deforestation are additional sources of air pollution.

Air quality can also be influenced by natural elements such as geographic, meteorological and seasonal factors.

Air pollution does not recognize borders, hence, improving air quality demands sustained and coordinated government action at all levels.

WHO said countries need to work together on solutions for sustainable transport, more efficient and renewable energy production and use and waste management.

WHO works with many sectors including transport and energy, urban planning and rural development to support countries to tackle this problem.

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