Air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world. New data from WHO shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution.
This is World War 2 scale annual deaths that is lasting for many decades instead of the seven years of World War 2.
Estimates for the total number of casualties in World War 2 vary, because many deaths went unrecorded. Most suggest that some 60 million people died in the war, including about 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians. Many of the civilians died because of deliberate genocide, massacres, mass-bombings, disease, and starvation.
60 million deaths for seven years is 8.5 million deaths per year.
Some estimates are 50 million deaths which would be just over 7 million deaths per year.
Bad air pollution days also increase the numbers of people who go to hospitals. In bad air pollution cities it is like forcing every person (babies, elderly and asthmatic) to take several cigarettes.
Despite the level of deaths and the economic and social impact on health, there is still insufficient motivation to combat air pollution.
Combating air pollution would far cheaper and easier than addressing CO2. Air pollution is about getting cleaner burn of fossil fuels or using slash and char instead of slash and burn agriculture. Indoor air pollution is about getting smokeless cookers.
“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes. If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.”
Among those deaths, 21 percent are due to pneumonia, 20 percent are from strokes, 34 percent are caused by heart disease, 19 percent are from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.
Exposure to fine particles (particulates) in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, cause diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.
Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.
More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
Around 3 billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution. WHO has been monitoring household air pollution for more than a decade and, while the rate of access to clean fuels and technologies is increasing everywhere, improvements are not even keeping pace with population growth in many parts of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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