90% of people breathe contaminated air, says WHO
7 million die every year as a result of breathing contaminated air, according to the latest WHO report.
More people die of air pollution than of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Breathing causes four times more deaths than these three diseases combined: seven million a year, almost as many as all cancers, because the air inspired by nine out of ten humans is contaminated, to a greater or lesser extent.
The data, published by the World Health Organization (WHO), are very similar to the previous report on air pollution, which the agency announced in 2016, and that’s bad news because in these two years there has not been significant progress.
The main sources of particulate air pollution are the inefficient use of energy in homes, industry, agriculture and transport sectors as well as coal power plants.
In some regions, desert sand and dust, waste burning and deforestation are additional sources of pollution, which can also be aggravated by geographical, meteorological and seasonal factors.
These particles penetrate the body through the lungs and the cardiovascular system. Seven million deaths, according to the calculations of the WHO, are mostly caused by five ailments, which sometimes occur simultaneously: pneumonia, stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
The most affected are the children – most of the cases they die of pneumonia -, the people who carry out their work outdoors and women, since they are mainly those who are in charge of the domestic tasks and the pollution generated indoors.
The WHO estimates that 3 billion people in the world lack an improved cooking system, so they prepare their food by burning organic matter, which has, as consequences, the aforementioned health conditions.
This is partly due to the fact that 90% of deaths related to pollution occur in low and middle-income countries, especially in Africa and Asia.
Although they are not the only meaningful sources of pollution, contamination in megacities is also responsible for the massive death toll.
Among large cities, places with populations of more than 14 million inhabitants, the worst situation is lived in New Delhi, Cairo, Dhaka, Bombay, Beijing, Shanghai, Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo.
The WHO report has some positive news, though. Pollution levels in the air remain almost the same since 2010, they are already being reduced in some places, especially in Europe and America.
In addition, the WHO highlights that there are countries that are taking the problem very seriously. One of those places is China.
The Asian country, where some of the most polluted cities are located, is also taking dire measures against pollution.
The report also cites India, which is implementing important programs to replace polluting kitchens with clean ones. Mexico City, has acquired important commitments to promote public transport and prohibit diesel vehicles.
To make the report, the WHO has collected data from more than 4,300 human settlements in 108 countries, an unprecedented monitoring that presents, in the words of Sophie Gumy, specialist of the organization, the most “accurate image that has ever been published.”
There are a thousand more measurement points than in the previous study. Most are in urban areas, but there are also rural environments.
They measure the average of annual concentrations of small particles, including pollutants such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which represent the greatest risks to human health.
Reversing this situation is a problem of public health, human rights, and equity. “Air pollution is a threat to all of us, but especially to the poorest and most marginalized,” says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General.
In his opinion, taking action is urgent to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the agenda that the international community has drawn up to 2030 to achieve a better world.