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Air pollution kills 6.5 M yearly

MANILA, Philippines - Some 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution and a vast majority of the world – 6.76 billion people – lives in excessive cosmic dust, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported.

Rolling out its most detailed profile of the scourge in a bid to slash the deadly toll, the United Nations’ health agency said the world’s population reached 7.35 billion last year, 92 percent of whom live in places with air pollution exceeding recommended limits.

The WHO said nearly 90 percent of the deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” top WHO environmental official Maria Neira said.

The international health agency’s new air quality model includes interactive maps that highlight areas within countries exceeding WHO limits. 

Neira said solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions.

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“Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” WHO assistant director general Flavia Bustreo said. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last.”

Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants and industrial activities.

But the agency said not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts.

“The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combating it,” Bustreo said.

Developed in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom, the report represents WHO’s most detailed outdoor air pollution-related health data ever, based on satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3,000 locations, both rural and urban.

Some three million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6 percent of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.

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