99% of the people on Earth breathe air containing too many pollutants, the World Health Organization said on Monday, blaming poor air quality for millions of deaths each year.
New data from the United Nations health agency has shown that all corners of the globe are dealing with air pollution, although the problem is much worse in poorer countries.
“Nearly 100% of the world’s population still breathe air that exceeds the standards recommended by the World Health Organization,” the director of environment, climate change and health of the Institute told the press. agency, Maria Neira.
“This is a major public health problem.”
In its previous report four years ago, the WHO had already found that more than 90% of the world’s population was affected, but it has since tightened its limits, she said.
“The evidence base for harm from air pollution has grown rapidly and points to significant harm from even low levels of many air pollutants,” the WHO said.
While UN data last year indicated pandemic shutdowns and travel restrictions led to short-lived improvements in air quality, the WHO said air pollution remained a major problem.
“After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have seven million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution,” Neira said.
– “Healthier energy systems” –
The WHO study provides air quality data for more than 6,000 cities and other settlements in 117 countries, representing around 80% of urban settings.
Additionally, Neira said the WHO has used satellite data and mathematical models to determine that air quality is poor virtually everywhere.
The worst air quality was found in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asian regions, as well as in Africa, she said.
The results are alarming, the organization said, and underscored the importance of rapidly reducing the use of fossil fuels.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said concerns about soaring energy prices, due in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, should help propel change.
“Current energy concerns underscore the importance of accelerating the transition to cleaner and healthier energy systems,” he said in a statement.
“High fossil fuel prices, energy security and the urgency to address the twin health challenges of air pollution and climate change underscore the urgent need to move faster towards a world far less dependent on fossil fuels. .”
– Worse in poor countries –
The report provides data on concentrations of hazardous particles with a diameter between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (PM10) and particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5).
PM2.5 includes toxins like sulfate and carbon black, which pose the greatest health risks because they can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system.
And for the first time, the report also provides ground-based measurements of annual average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a common urban pollutant, which is associated with respiratory diseases, particularly asthma.
The report found that particulate pollution problems were much worse in poorer countries, but most cities had problems with nitrogen dioxide.
While the air in 17% of cities in high-income countries fell below WHO air quality guidelines for PM2.5 or PM10, less than 1% of cities in low-income countries and intermediate met the recommended thresholds, according to the report.
Of the nearly 4,000 cities in 74 countries that collected NO2 data, measurements showed that only 23% of people breathed annual average concentrations of the gas that met the levels of recently updated WHO guidelines.