WHO: 99% of the population suffers from air pollution

99% of the planet’s inhabitants breathe air that contains too many pollutants. As a World Health Organization (WHO) report released on Monday shows, every corner of the world is now grappling with air pollution. According to the WHO, bad air causes seven million premature deaths every year. The problem is greater in poor countries.

“Nearly the entire population of the world (99%) breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits and puts their health at risk,” the UN organization said. In its last report four years ago, the WHO claimed that more than 90% of the world’s population suffered from air pollution. Since then, however, it has tightened its boundaries.

The research results meanwhile indicate “considerable damage caused even by low concentrations of many air pollutants”, explained the WHO.

For its study, the WHO assessed air quality data from more than 6,000 cities and communities in 117 countries and linked it to satellite data and mathematical models. The results are alarming, according to the organization. The air is worse in the Eastern Mediterranean, Southeast Asia and Africa.

The report focuses in particular on PM2.5 fine dust, which is particularly hazardous to health. These particularly small fine dust particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns can penetrate deep into the lungs when inhaled. Air pollution by ultrafine particles causes cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as asthma.

However, the WHO also lists air pollution by larger fine dust particles with a diameter of up to ten micrometers and, for the first time, by nitrogen dioxide.

According to the report, poorer countries have far more particulate pollution problems than wealthier countries. In all countries, however, it is mainly the cities that are affected. While 17% of cities in high-income countries met WHO air quality guidelines for PM2.5 and PM10 particles, less than 1% of cities in low- and middle-income countries did so.

In the approximately 4,000 cities in 74 countries where data on nitrogen dioxide pollution was collected, only 23% of people breathed air within the limit values.

Over the past year, air pollution briefly decreased due to corona shutdowns and pandemic-imposed travel restrictions. The WHO has warned that the fundamental problem remains. “After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have seven million preventable deaths and countless years of good health lost to air pollution,” said the director of the Health Division Health and Environment of WHO, Maria Neira.

According to the WHO, to improve air quality, the use of fossil fuels must be reduced. Chief Executive Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hopes that high energy prices, partly due to the war in Ukraine, will boost the energy transition. The development shows “the importance of accelerating the transition to cleaner and healthier energy systems”, he said.

Publication: 04/04/2022 – Source: Agence-France-Presse

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