May 08, 2018

7 million people die every year as a result of air pollution, says WHO

7 million people die every year as a result of air pollution, says WHO

Air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world, with 9 out of 10 people breathing air that contains high levels of pollutants, according to the most recent update to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Ambient Air Quality Database. 

As urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases.

While all regions of the world are affected, people in low-income cities, mainly in Asia and Africa, are suffering the most. Ninety-seven per cent of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines—contrasting dramatically with 49% in high-income countries.

Improvements in access to clean fuels and technologies are failing to keep pace with population growth in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that household air pollution from cooking with such polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths alone in 2016.

While the WHO data show ambient air pollution levels are still dangerously high in most parts of the world, countries are taking measures to tackle and reduce air pollution from particulate matter and more cities than ever are measuring pollution levels and recognizing the associated health impacts. 

WHO stresses that “Air pollution does not recognize borders … Countries need to work together on solutions for sustainable transport, more efficient and renewable energy production and use and waste management.”

Writing for IZA World of Labor, the LSE’s Sefi Roth observes that, in addition to human health, air pollution imposes higher costs on society because it also adversely affects scholastic achievement and human capital formation: “[T]hose who suffer the most tend to be residents of the poorest parts of cities. This is mainly because of their proximity to factories and other disamenities, which makes them more exposed to air pollution.” Therefore, improving air quality in highly polluted and economically deprived areas may also improve social mobility as evidence suggests that air pollution affects educational outcomes unevenly across the income distribution.

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