99% of the population breathes polluted air

Almost the entire world population, 99%, breathes polluted air that exceeds the quality limits recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and endangers their health.

population breathes polluted air

A record number of more than 6,000 cities in 117 countries are now monitoring air quality, but people living in them still breathe unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, with people living in low-income countries and medium that suffer the highest exposures.

These data have led the World Health Organization to stress the importance of curbing the use of fossil fuels and taking other tangible steps to reduce air pollution levels.

The 2022 update of the World Health Organization Air Quality Database presents for the first time ground-based measurements of annual mean concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ), a common urban pollutant and precursor to particulate matter. and ozone. It also includes measurements of particles with diameters equal to or less than 10 μm (PM 10 ) or 2.5 μm (PM 2.5 ). Both groups of pollutants originate mainly from human activities related to the combustion of fossil fuels.

The new database indicates that an additional 2,000 cities and human settlements now record soil monitoring data for PM 10 and/or PM 2.5 compared to the last update. This means that data reporting has increased almost sixfold since the database was launched in 2011.

The evidence base for the harm that air pollution causes to the human body has been growing rapidly and points to significant harm caused by even low levels of many air pollutants. Particulate matter, especially PM 2.5, is capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and entering the bloodstream, affecting the cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke), and respiratory systems. There is increasing evidence that the particles affect other organs and also cause other diseases.

NO 2 is associated with respiratory diseases, especially asthma, which causes respiratory symptoms (such as cough, wheezing or shortness of breath), hospital admissions and emergency room visits

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Last year, the WHO revised its air quality guidelines, making them more stringent in an effort to help countries better assess the healthiness of their own air.

“Current energy challenges highlight the importance of accelerating the transition to cleaner and healthier energy systems,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “High fossil fuel prices, energy security, and the urgency to address the twin health challenges of air pollution and climate change highlight the urgent need to move faster toward a world far less dependent on fossil fuels.” .

Actions govts can take to improve air quality

Several governments are taking steps to improve air quality, but the WHO is calling for action to be stepped up quickly to:

  • Adopt or revise and implement national air quality standards in accordance with the latest WHO air quality guidelines
  • Monitor air quality and identify its sources of pollution
  • Support the transition to the exclusive use of clean energy in homes for cooking, heating and lighting
  • Build safe and affordable public transport systems, as well as networks for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Enforce stricter vehicle emissions and efficiency standards, and make vehicle inspections and maintenance mandatory.
  • Invest in homes and efficient power generation system
  • Improve the management of industrial and municipal waste
  • Reduce the incineration of agricultural residues, forest fires and certain agroforestry activities (for example, the production of charcoal)
  • Include air pollution in the curricula of health professionals and provide tools to promote the involvement of the health sector.

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