Global — Exposure to air pollution claimed lives of around seven million people in the world during 2012, say new estimates released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
According to the WHO, with a total of 5.9 million pollution-related deaths, low and middle-income countries in Southeast Asia, including India, and countries in the Western Pacific are the worst off. Air pollution is the worlds largest single environmental health risk.
Regionally, low-and middle-income countries in the WHO South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution. Risks from air pollution are far greater than previously thought, particularly in terms of heart disease and strokes. Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution. The evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we breathe, said Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHOs department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health.
According to WHO, the biggest culprits for indoor air pollution in countries like India are solid fuels like wood crop wastes, charcoal and coal used in open fires for cooking. Globally around three million people cook this way, often in poorly ventilated spaces where indoor smoke can be up to 100 times more than acceptable levels for particles like soot that penetrate into lungs.
With more than 50 per cent of premature deaths among children due to pneumonia caused by inhaling this soot and 3.8 million premature deaths annually due to non- communicable diseases like stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer attributed to exposure to household air pollution, indoor air pollution is the cause of high levels of maternal and infant mortality estimates state outdoor pollution was responsible for 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012.
Of them, 88 per cent were in countries in Southeast Asia and Western Pacific due to burning of agricultural waste, forest fires and charcoal production, WHO said.Dr Carlos Dora, WHO coordinator for public health, environmental and social determinants of health, said excessive air pollution was often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry.
In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health-care cost savings as well as climate gains. Dr Carlos Dora said WHO and health sectors had a unique role in translating scientific evidence on air pollution into policies that could deliver impact and improvements that would save lives.