Most people globally, some 99% of the world's population, breathe air that exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) air quality limits, new data shows, the UN agency said on Monday, urging a world less dependent on fossil fuels.
The WHO said its 2022 updates on its air quality database introduce ground measurements of annual mean concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a typical urban pollutant and precursor of particulate matter and ozone.
A record number of over 6,000 cities in 117 countries now monitor air quality, but the people living in them still breathe unhealthy fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, said the global health body.
People in low and middle-income countries are suffering the highest exposure.
“Current energy concerns highlight the importance of speeding up the transition to cleaner, healthier energy systems,” said Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general.
“High fossil fuel prices, energy security, and the urgency of addressing the twin health challenges of air pollution and climate change underscore the pressing need to move faster towards a world that is much less dependent on fossil fuels.”
The findings of the new research have prompted the WHO to highlight the importance of curbing fossil fuel use and taking other tangible steps to reduce air pollution levels.
World Health Day
The new data came ahead of World Health Day, April 7, which this year celebrates the theme “Our planet, our health.”
WHO said the new air quality database is the most extensive yet in its coverage of air pollution exposure on the ground.
Some 2,000 more cities and human settlements are now recording ground monitoring data for particulate matter, PM10 and/or PM2.5, compared to the last update, said the WHO.
Both pollutants originate mainly from human activities related to fossil fuel combustion, it added.
The release marks an almost six-fold rise in reporting since the 2011 launch of the database.
The WHO said the evidence for the damage air pollution causes to the human body has grown rapidly and points to significant harm caused by even low levels of many air pollutants.
Particulate matter, especially PM2.5, can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke), and have respiratory impacts.
Emerging data show that particulate matter also impacts other organs and causes other diseases.
“NO2 is associated with respiratory diseases, particularly asthma, leading to respiratory symptoms (such as coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing), hospital admissions, and visits to emergency rooms,” said the WHO.
Last year, the global health body revised its Air Quality Guidelines, making them more stringent to help countries better evaluate the healthiness of their air.