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Toxic air kills seven million annually

Some 4,300 cities in 108 countries are now included in WHO’s ambient air quality database

Air pollution remains high in many parts of the world but more countries are acting
Air pollution remains high in many parts of the world but more countries are acting

New data shows that nine out of 10 people are breathing air containing high levels of pollutants with air pollution remaining dangerously high in many parts of the world.


Figures from World Health Organisation (WHO) reveal a death toll of seven million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution, but it reports more countries are measuring and taking action to reduce air pollution.


“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.


“It is unacceptable that over three billion people – most of them 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.”


More than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.


According to WHO, around three billion people – more than two-fifths of the world’s population – still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution.


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


More than 4,300 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, the organisation claims.


Since 2016, more than 1,000 additional cities have been added to its database which shows that more countries are measuring and taking action to reduce air pollution than ever before.


While the latest data show ambient air pollution levels are still dangerously high in most parts of the world, they also show some positive progress. Countries are taking measures to tackle and reduce air pollution from particulate matter. For example, in just two years, India’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Scheme has provided some 37 million women living below the poverty line with free LPG connections to support them to switch to clean household energy use.


Mexico City has committed to cleaner vehicle standards, including a move to soot-free buses and a ban on private diesel cars by 2025.


“Many of the world’s megacities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than five times, representing a major risk to people’s health,” added Dr Maria Neira, director of the department of public health, social and environmental determinants of health at WHO.


“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.”


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