The World Health Organisation has said that a staggering 99 per cent of the global population now breathes air that exceeds the prescribed quality limits, thereby posing serious health dangers.
These are the latest statistics released by the WHO on Monday – ahead of the 2022 World Health Day slated for April 7, 2022.
According to the WHO, a record number of over 6,000 cities in 117 countries are now monitoring air quality, but the people living therein are still breathing unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, adding that people in low and middle-income countries are, however, more susceptible to the highest level of exposure.
These novel discoveries have incited the WHO to underscore the essence of sensitizing the global community to curbing fossil fuel use whilst invariably reducing air pollution levels.
Scientifically, both particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are strong indicators of polluted air, primarily produced by human activities of burning fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, the organisation noted that the evidence base for the damage air pollution does to the human body has been on a steady rise and a pointer to significant harm evoked by even low levels of many air pollutants.
The Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, affirmed that the ”current energy concerns highlight the importance of speeding up the transition to cleaner, healthier energy systems”, stressing the need for the global community to fall back on another viable alternative of energy source.
“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,” Ghebreyesus observed.
IFLScience noted that particulate matter, especially the smaller molecules known as PM2.5, is capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and entering the bloodstream, causing damage to the cardiovascular system, the respiratory tract, the brain, and other organs where it causes disease and damage.
Nitrogen Oxide, on the other hand, comes from the emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, and industry. This pollutant is primarily associated with respiratory diseases, especially asthma.
The adverse effects of air pollution have been said to increase the risk of autism and dementia, as well as premature births.
As a result of this dramatic risk to health, the WHO estimates air pollution is responsible for around 4.2 million deaths every single year.
The WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, Dr Maria Neira, noted that these deaths, unlike the pandemic whose sudden scourge was not preventable, could be much forestalled given the proper environmental attitude.
”After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have seven million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution. That’s what we’re saying when we look at the mountain of air pollution data, evidence, and solutions available. Yet too many investments are still being sunk into a polluted environment rather than in clean, healthy air,” she remarked.
In view of these compelling realities, the WHO recommends the following measures to help improve the quality of the air we breathe in, which in turn improves the overall health status of the global populace.
– Safeguard measures to improve air quality and health –
Adopt or revise and implement national air quality standards according to the latest WHO Air Quality Guidelines
Monitor air quality and identify sources of air pollution
Support the transition to exclusive use of clean household energy for cooking, heating and lighting
Build safe and affordable public transport systems and pedestrian and cycle-friendly networks
Implement stricter vehicle emissions and efficiency standards, and enforce mandatory inspection and maintenance for a vehicle.
Invest in energy-efficient housing and power generation
Improve industry and municipal waste management
Reduce agricultural waste incineration, forest fires and certain agro-forestry activities (e.g. charcoal production)
Include air pollution in curricula for health professionals and provide tools for the health sector to engage.
The World Health Day marked on April 7 would help fixate global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being.