WHO data shows nine out of ten people breathe air containing pollutants

WHO data shows nine out of ten people breathe air containing pollutants
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus © Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

According to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of ten people breathe air containing pollutants, demanding action from cities worldwide.

Further, the WHO estimated that some seven million people every year die from breathing in ambient air pollution. Levels of ambient air pollution remain dangerously high in many of the world’s cities, and are a critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases in people who breathe air containing pollutants.

To monitor the threat to public health posed by ambient air pollution, the WHO maintains a comprehensive, globally-focused database. It contains data the annual mean concentrations of fine particulate matter in more than 4300 cities in 108 countries.

The particulate matter monitored includes pollutants such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which pose the greatest risks to human health. Ultimately, the organisation aims to use this data to help prevent health problems in people who currently breathe air containing pollutants.

What can cities do to prevent this?

According to the director of the WHO’s Department of Public Health, Social and Environmental Determinants of Health, Dr Maria Neira, the fact that more cities than ever before are recording their air pollution data reflects the increase in interest in this issue as a political priority. Since 2016, more than 1,000 cities have been added to the database, representing a large growth in the available data.

Neira explained: “Many of the world’s megacities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than 5 times, representing a major risk to people’s health. 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.”

How has the WHO responded?

Director General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the need to tackle the problem of pollution is not only an element of combating climate change – in fact, it is a fundamental aspect of sustainable development.

He concluded: “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.”

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