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WHO Reports Seven Million Deaths Annually due to Air Pollution

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25 2014 (IPS) - In new estimates released Monday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that around seven million people died prematurely in 2012 as a result of air pollution exposure. The figures confirm it is one of the world’s largest single environmental health risks.

The Geneva-based U.N. agency said South-East Asia and Western Pacific are now the most polluted regions in the world, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution in 2012.

The new data reveals a stronger link between indoor and outdoor pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, as well as between air pollution and cancer.

“Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children’s Health.

She stated that cleaning up the air reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly.

Indeed, around 80 percent of the 3.7 million deaths from outdoor pollution came as a result of stroke and heart disease, 11 percent from lung diseases and 6 percent from cancers.
In 2008, the WHO reported that indoor and outdoor air pollution led to 3.2 million deaths.

The new estimates are based not on an increase in pollution, but thanks to more knowledge of the links between air pollutants and heart diseases and cancers and the use of improved measurements and technology.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health (PHE).

WHO also estimates that indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves.

According to Dr Carlos Dora, WHO Coordinator for PHE, excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry.

He added that, 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.”

The report was published at a time when China frequently faces the so-called “Airpocalypse” phenomenon of heavy and extreme pollution; as well as main French cities, where pollution with fine particles had reached an unusually high level.

In the 2009 Blacksmith Institute World’s Worst Polluted Places report, indoor air pollution and urban air quality were listed as two of the world worst toxic pollution problems.

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