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92% of the world’s population breathe in polluted air

92% of the world’s population breathe in polluted air


by Michael D'Angelo

According to the latest air pollution report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), 92% (7.5 billion as of last year) of the global population are affected by deadly air pollution.

This report by WHO, in collaboration with the University of Bath, is the most detailed outdoor air pollution data by country. The findings were based on satellite measurements, air transport models, and ground station monitors at more than 3,000 locations.

The data focuses on dangerous particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, or PM2.5, which includes toxins like sulfate and black carbon.

Air with more than 10 microgrammes per cubic metre of PM2.5 on an annual average basis is considered substandard.

The study warns of a “public health emergency” created by rising pollution levels.

The WHO estimated that more than 6.5 million deaths per year are linked to exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution.

Outdoor pollution is blamed for more than 3 million fatalities annually, but indoor pollution can be equally as harmful, especially in poorer homes where cooking often involves burning charcoal.

Almost 90% of deaths are reported to be happening in low-income and middle-income countries, with nearly two out of three deaths occurring in Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions – including China, Malaysia and Vietnam.

China is listed as the most polluted country in the world — more than one million people died in the country in 2012 from air pollution.

This is followed by India where at least 600,000 citizens have died from polluted air in 2012, and Russia, where more than 140,000 died from air pollution.

The nations with the best air quality include Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Micronesia with zero deaths, Brunei Darussalam with only one death from air pollution, and Fiji and Vanuatu with two deaths each.

Other countries reported low numbers of deaths related to polluted air included Seychelles 18, New Zealand 20, Sweden 40, and Australia.

In Australia, there were 93 deaths from air pollution in 2012. In comparison, the US had more than 38,000 deaths while the UK had over 16,000 deaths.

 

WHO cites the primary sources of air pollution as household fuel and waste burning, inefficient modes of transport, power plants that use coals and other industrial activities. Dust storms can also degrade air quality.

Pollutants that affect health include carbon monoxide, particulate matter , ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

The study warns of a “public health emergency” created by rising pollution levels.

Assistant Director-General of WHO, Flavia Bustreo said in a statement, “Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations—women, children, and the older adults.”

He emphasised that people must breathe clean air to be healthy.

 

 

Gavin Shaddick, the leader of the team which the put together the WHO data, commented that air pollution is a global problem and a major risk to public health, and that a substantial number of lives could be saved if air pollution levels were reduced.

According to WHO’s air pollution fact sheet, reducing air pollution levels can reduce the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.

The lower the levels of air pollution, the better the cardiovascular and respiratory health of the population will be, both long- and short-term.

Outdoor air pollution is a major environmental health problem affecting everyone in developed and developing countries alike.

However, indoor air pollution is also a serious health risk for some 3 billion people who cook and heat their homes with biomass fuels and coal – over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels.

Carlos Dora, coordinator at the WHO’s public health and environment department, said that some of the strategies adopted to prevent air pollution have limited effectiveness.

For example, daily air quality warnings, like those issued in Beijing, do little to help the average person, since the real threat is exposure to pollution air over extended periods of time.

Staying indoors on a day when the air is particularly bad accomplishes little, Mr Dora said, while the WHO also said it had seen no conclusive evidence that face masks did much to filter dirty air.

 

By world standards, Australia has very clean air thanks to strategies implemented to manage air pollution.

However, levels of some pollutants, including ground-level ozone and particulate matter, can still exceed current air quality standards. In addition, population growth, urbanisation and increasing demands for transportation and energy consumption are ongoing challenges which impact our air quality. Governments, businesses and the community will need to be active to ensure a clean air future.

While we can’t control the air quality outdoors, we can control the air quality indoors in our home such as by improving indoor air quality, reducing use of hazardous household cleaners, investing in an air purifier, or even buying some air cleaning household plants.

Learn more about air quality from our health and wellness knowledge base.


Michael D'Angelo

Michael's passion and background in marketing, research, mental health awareness, and youth brings in a fresh perspective to the team. From his degree in marketing, Michael is aware how easily one may fall prey to advertising and peer pressure- enabling him to write dedicated content about specific topics pertaining to youth, and alcohol and health.


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