According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 9 out of 10 people all around the world are breathing in poor quality air, which causes more than 6 million deaths per year!
The head of the WHO’s department of public health and environment, Maria Neira, said: “This new data is enough to make us all extremely concerned. Pollution affects practically all countries in the world and all parts of society. This is a public health emergency!”
Where is pollution the worst?
According to the WHO experts, air pollution is at its worst in urban environments, but that does not discount rural areas from exposure to it. Statistics show that more than 80% of city-dwellers and 98% of those from developing countries are exposed to polluted air.
In a recent study, data was collected from more than 3000 locations all over the world and it proved that 92% of those places exceeded the WHO’s air pollution limits.
The data collected focused particularly on air pollution that included particulate matter that had a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5).
PM2.5 is usually made up of toxins like black carbon and sulfates, which are highly absorbable by the lungs and cardiovascular system. If air has more than 10 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 per year it is considered to be polluted and dangerous to human health.
Collecting ground-level readings proved to be challenging in developing countries, forcing the WHO’s team to rely on satellite data and estimates to categorize them effectively. Neira said that despite these data gaps, the United Nations agency had collected more data than ever before and finally have sufficient evidence to begin to address and solve the problem.
The official report confirmed that “poorer countries have much dirtier air than the developed world.”
What type of pollution causes death?
Both indoor and outdoor air pollution can lead to death, with about 3 million people dying per year from either one.
Statistics showed that 90% of air pollution-related deaths occurred in low to middle- income countries. China, Malaysia, and Vietnam had some of the highest deaths related to air pollution, primarily caused by primitive and polluting cooking methods, such as burning charcoal.
What’s being done about it?
Neira said that immediate action to tackle air pollution could not come soon enough and that the WHO is currently urging governments to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, promote cleaner cooking fuel, and improve waste management methods.
According to Dr. Carlos Dora, the coordinate at the WHO’s public health and environment department, many current strategies have been ineffective in protecting the average individual from air pollution.
“Daily air quality warnings, like those often issued in Beijing, likely do very little to help the average person since the real threat is exposure to sub-standard air over extended periods of time. Staying indoors on a day when the air is particularly bad accomplishes very little,” he said.
He added that the WHO has also seen very little proof that face masks protect people from PM2.5 at all and is excited for the new data to bring about a more effective solution for dealing with air pollution.