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Monday, 1 June 2015

Air pollution is world’s top environmental health risk, WHO says................

NEW DELHI: Air pollution is the world's biggest environmental health risk, causing at least one in eight deaths around the globe, the World Health Organization has said.

The assessment was reached at the first ever discussion on air pollution and its health impacts at WHO's World Health Assembly, which concluded in Geneva last week. Delegates at the assembly adopted a resolution to address the health impacts of air pollution.


The new estimation significantly increases the threat posed by air pollution and has dire health implications for countries such as India, where pollution load is high and public health infrastructure underdeveloped.

WHO had last year ranked Delhi as the most polluted among 1,600 cities across the world, worse than Beijing which had previously held the dubious tag.

WHO's assessment points to a huge surge in disease burden and deaths due to air pollution exposure. Deaths due to air pollution, which include outdoor as well as indoor pollution, have increased four-fold across the globe over the past decade, the latest data shows. While the total number of deaths due to air pollution is pegged at 8 million every year, data shows that China and India are by far the worst affected countries.
Of the 8 million deaths globally, 3.7 million are from outdoor or ambient air pollution, the data shows. Around 88% of premature deaths due to air pollution exposure occurred in low- and middle-income countries, and the greatest number in the western Pacific and south-east Asia regions.

Latest studies by WHO and other international agencies show that apart from development of respiratory diseases, exposure to air pollution leads to severe risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease. Moreover, stronger links of air pollution and cancer have also been established in recent studies.


Chris Carlis braves traffic and toxic air on his bicycle in GK-1, Delhi.

According to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic to humans. The agency, specializing in cancer research, has found evidence that exposure to outdoor air pollution causes lung cancer as well as there is association with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

"Air pollution is already known to increase risks for a wide range of diseases, such as respiratory and heart diseases. Studies indicate that in recent years, exposure levels have increased significantly in some parts of the world, particularly in rapidly industrializing countries with large populations," IARC said.

The latest resolution, passed during the 68th World Health Assembly, called for all countries to develop air quality monitoring systems and health registries to improve surveillance for all illnesses related to air pollution. WHO also asked its member countries to promote clean cooking, heating and lighting technologies and fuels; and strengthen international transfer of expertise, technologies and scientific data in the field of air pollution.

Experts say policies and investments supporting cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing, power generation, industry and better municipal waste management would reduce key sources of urban outdoor air pollution.


In rural areas, reducing outdoor emissions from household coal and biomass energy systems, agricultural waste incineration, forest fires and certain agro-forestry activities can lead to a potential reduction in air pollution.

The WHO assessment says, "Reducing outdoor air pollution also reduces emissions of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon particles and methane, thus contributing to the near- and long-term mitigation of climate change."

At its next assembly, WHO will propose a roadmap for an enhanced global response by the health sector that reduces the adverse health effects of air pollution.