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Nearly entire global population now breathing polluted air – WHO

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THE World Health Organisation a full 99 per cent of people on earth breathe air containing too many pollutants, blaming poor air quality for millions of deaths each year.

Fresh data from the UN health agency showed that every corner of the globe is dealing with air pollution, although the problem is much worse in poorer countries.

“Almost 100 per cent of the global population is still breathing air that exceeds the standards recommended by the World Health Organisation,” the agency’s environment, climate change and health director Maria Neira told reporters.

“This is a major public health issue.”

In its previous report four years ago, WHO had already found that over 90 percent of the global population was affected, but it has since tightened its limits, it said.

“The evidence base for the harm caused by air pollution has been growing rapidly and points to significant harm caused by even low levels of many air pollutants,” WHO said.

While UN data last year indicated that pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions caused short-lived improvements in air quality, WHO said air pollution remains a towering 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.

WHO’s study provides air quality data from more than 6,000 cities and other settlements across 117 countries — representing around 80 percent of urban settings.

In addition, Neira said WHO used satellite data and mathematical models to determine that air quality is falling short basically everywhere.

The poorest air quality was found in the eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia regions, and Africa, she said.

The findings were alarming, the organisation said, and highlighted the importance of rapidly curbing fossil fuel use.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed that worries over soaring energy prices, due in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, should help propel change.

“Current energy concerns highlight the importance of speeding up the transition to cleaner, healthier energy systems,” he said in a statement.

“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.”

– Worse in poorer countries –

The report provides data on concentrations of dangerous particulate matter with a diameter of between 2.5 and 10 micrometres (PM10), and particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5).

PM2.5 includes toxins like sulfate and black carbon, which pose the greatest health risks since they can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system.

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