This may not be much of a surprise to environmentalists, but that doesn’t make the findings of a World Health Organization report any less disturbing. Most of us are aware of the risks of air pollution to human health and wellbeing, but the impact is far greater than we imagined, as WHO states that 90 percent of the world’s population breathes poor quality air, resulting in over 6 million deaths each year!
Air Pollution A Growing Public Health Crisis
“92 percent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits”
The problem with poor quality air is more pervasive in cities, but increased urbanization and a population shift towards urban centers across the world has exposed a larger segment of the population to lifestyle diseases and health risks associated with air pollution. Another study published earlier this year showed that air pollution is also linked with the rising incidence of cardiovascular disease, which is the primary cause of death in India and many other parts of the world. What’s worrying is that researchers point out that today air quality in rural areas is not really much better than that in urban areas. The report, which gathered data from across 3,000 sites globally, found that “92 percent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits”.
The report mainly focused on levels of particulate matter in the air, with toxins like sulfate and black carbon that can enter the lungs and affect the cardiovascular system as well. This increases your risk not just of respiratory disorders and conditions like COPD, but it also raises the risk of heart disease and strokes.
How Air Pollution Impacts Quality Of Life
“90 percent of the deaths linked with air pollution occur in low and middle-income countries”
According to Maria Neira, head of WHO’s department of public health and environment, “It is a public health emergency.” It is estimated that the combined effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution kill more than 6 million people annually, with data being clearer with regard to outdoor air pollution. Nevertheless, indoor air pollution is a huge threat, especially in developing countries and rural societies, where solid fuels like wood and charcoal are used for heat and cooking. In fact, 90 percent of the deaths linked with air pollution occur in low and middle-income countries. This has a dramatic impact on quality of life, as the cost of medical care that arises from air pollution related ailments takes a huge toll on societies that are already impoverished.
Unlike illnesses spread through infection or contagion, there is also a limit to what you can do to avoid the health risks of air pollution. According to WHO’s public health and environment department coordinator, Carlos Dora strategies to protect against air pollution are limited in effectiveness, making improvement of air quality absolutely essential. The WHO report found that face masks are ineffective at filtering pollutants in dry air, while staying home on days when air pollution levels are particularly high also does little to offset the risk from living in such conditions, as you are still breathing in polluted air over a prolonged period.
These findings highlight the importance of government initiatives to lower emissions by adopting and promoting green practices and more environment-friendly methods of commuting, waste management, and cooking.