The dangers of air pollution are clear: fine particles penetrate deeply within the lungs and the cardiovascular system, causing illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, lung cancers or even strokes.
Air pollution is responsible for seven million premature deaths each year. The information comes from new estimates published on Wednesday by the World Health Organisation (“the WHO”). Throughout the world, nine out of ten people are breathing polluted air.
The seven million deaths are partly attributed to the pollution of atmospheric air charged with fine particles. Included within such pollution are emissions coming largely from coal and wood combustion for electricity and heating purposes, energy conversion by industry, transport and even agricultural practices. In addition, there are polluting technologies used in ovens, open hearths and lamps.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the UN agency, stresses, “Although all countries are affected, the poorest and the most marginalised pay the highest price.” He adds, “More than 90% of pollution-linked deaths are taking place in the countries with average low and middle incomes.”
Exhaust fumes produce the highest numbers of deaths in the regions of South East Asia and the Western Pacific, with respectively 2.4 million and 2.2 million deaths. The countries which come next in these rankings are Africa (nearly one million deaths), the Eastern Mediterranean region (around 500,000), then Europe (approximately 500,000) and the Americas (more than 300,000).
Being the main environmental health risk, fine particles penetrate deeply within the lungs and the cardiovascular system, causing illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, lung cancers or even strokes.
However, the WHO currently senses a growing willingness to find a solution for the problem. The Director for the Department of Public Health at the WHO, Dr Maria Neira, observes, “We note an increasingly marked political interest to measure and monitor air quality, in particular in countries with high incomes.” The trend proves to be the case in Europe and North America but also in China and India.
Since 2016, in excess of a further 1,000 cities have registered air pollution data. She adds, “We hope that monitoring efforts undergo a similar rise on the global scale.”
The WHO, the database of which covers some 4,300 cities within 108 countries, will hold the very first two-day conference on air quality, on October 30 and November 1 this year, in Geneva.