The United Nations health agency says almost everyone in the world breathes air that does not meet its air quality standards, calling for more action to reduce the use of fossil fuels, which generate pollutants that cause respiratory and blood circulation problems and lead to millions of preventable deaths each year.
The World Health Organization, about six months after tightening its air quality guidelines, released an update to its air quality database on Monday that draws on information of a growing number of cities and towns around the world – now totaling more than 6,000 municipalities.
The WHO said 99% of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds its air quality limits and is often plagued by particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs, enter veins and arteries and cause diseases. Air quality is worst in the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia regions, followed by Africa, he said.
“After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have 7 million preventable deaths and countless preventable years of lost good health due to air pollution,” said Dr Maria Neira, head of the WHO Environment, Climate Change and Health Department. “Yet too much investment is still being invested in a polluted environment rather than clean, healthy air.” The database, which has traditionally considered two types of particles known as PM2.5 and PM10, for the first time included ground-based measurements of nitrogen dioxide. The latest version of the database was released in 2018.
Nitrogen dioxide comes primarily from human-generated fuel combustion, such as automobile traffic, and is most common in urban areas. Exposure can lead to respiratory illnesses like asthma and symptoms like coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing, and more hospital and emergency room admissions, the WHO said. The highest concentrations were found in the eastern Mediterranean region.
Particulate matter has many sources, such as transportation, power plants, agriculture, waste burning, and industry, as well as natural sources like desert dust. The developing world is particularly affected: India had high levels of PM10, while China had high levels of PM2.5, according to the database. “Particles, particularly PM2.5, are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and entering the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory impacts,” the WHO said. “There is new evidence that the particles impact other organs and also cause other diseases.” The findings highlight the scale of change needed to tackle air pollution, said Anumita Roychowdhury, an air pollution expert at the Center for Science and Environment, a research and advocacy organization in New Delhi. . India and the world must prepare for major changes to try to reduce air pollution: electric vehicles; a move away from fossil fuels; a massive increase in green energy; and households separating their types of waste, she said.
The Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a New Delhi-based think tank, found in a study that more than 60% of India’s PM2.5 loads come from households and industries. Tanushree Ganguly, who leads the council’s clean air programme, called for action to reduce emissions from industries, automobiles, biomass burning and household energy. “We must prioritize access to clean energy for those households that need it most and take active steps to clean up our industrial sector,” she said.
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