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Air Pollution Causes Over 6 Million Deaths Annually, Says WHO

First Posted: Sep 29, 2016 06:26 AM EDT
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently estimated that air pollution caused 6.5 million deaths worldwide in 2012, a number which accounted for 11.6 percent of deaths globally during that year. Furthermore, WHO's new air quality model shows that nearly 90 percent of the deaths related to air pollution took place in low income countries in the West Pacific and South East Asia regions. The health organization also said that nine out of 10 people are breathing poor quality air globally.

According to Flavia Bustreo, WHO's Assistant Director General, air pollution takes a continuous toll on the health of older adults, children and women - who make up the most vulnerable population. Bustreo also feels that for people to remain healthy, it is necessary that they should inhale clean air from their first breath to last.

WHO observed that 94 percent of the air pollution caused deaths are related to non communicable diseases like lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke and cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, air pollution also makes the risk of catching acute respiratory infections higher.

Incidentally, WHO noticed that it's not just outdoor air pollution that is to be blamed, indoor air pollution can be equally deadly. The main sources of air pollution included industrial activities, coal fired power plants, waste and household fuel burning and inefficient modes of transport. Interestingly, WHO found out that pollution is not only caused by manmade activities but also due to reasons like dust storms, especially in areas near deserts.

"This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than 6 million deaths - 1 in 9 of total global deaths - from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution," said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. "More and more cities are monitoring air pollution now, satellite data is more comprehensive, and we are getting better at refining the related health estimates."

WHO teamed up with United Kingdom's University of Bath to prepare the new air quality model.  The data used to create the interactive map was collected from ground station monitors, air transport models and satellite measurements in more than 3000 urban and rural locations.

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