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WHO raises alarm; 99% of world population breathing polluted air

WION logo WION 04-04-2022 (Wion Web Team)
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Almost the entire world's population (99 per cent) breaths air that is polluted beyond World Health Organization (WHO) standards, posing a health risk. People in low and middle-income countries are exposed to the highest levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

Even with a record number of over 6,000 cities in 117 countries that are now monitoring air quality, residents are still breathing unsafe levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

The World Health Organization has emphasised the necessity of reducing air pollution levels by reducing fossil fuel use and implementing other concrete initiatives.

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The update of the World Health Organization’s air quality database was released in the run-up to World Health Day, which this year, introduces ground measurements of annual mean concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a prevalent urban pollutant and precursor of particulate matter and ozone.

It also includes measurements of particulate matter with a diameter of 10 μm (PM10) or 2.5 μm (PM2.5); both types of pollutants are mostly caused by human activities such as fossil fuel combustion.

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) amended its Air Quality Guidelines to make them more rigorous in order to enable countries properly assess the fitness of their air.

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“Current energy concerns highlight the importance of speeding up the transition to cleaner, healthier energy systems,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.  

“High fossil fuel prices, energy security, and the urgency of addressing the twin health challenges of air pollution and climate change, underscore the pressing need to move faster towards a world that is much less dependent on fossil fuels.” 

In the 117 nations that measure air quality, 17 per cent of cities in high-income countries have air quality that is below the WHO's PM2.5 or PM10 guidelines. In low- and middle-income countries, air quality is only met in less than 1 per cent of cities.

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Low and middle income countries are still exposed to higher levels of hazardous PM than the global average, although NO2 patterns differ, with less of a difference between high- and low- and middle-income countries.

At the ground level, almost 4,000 cities/human settlements in 74 nations gather NO2 data. 

Only 23 per cent of individuals in these regions breathe annual average NO2 concentrations that match the recently updated version of the WHO's Air Quality Guidelines, according to their assessments.

Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, said, “After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have 7 million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution." 

(With inputs from agencies)

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