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Urgent action needed to tackle air pollution.

It is highly relevant that with some 6.5mn people dying annually from air pollution and 92% of the world's population living in places where levels exceed recommended limits, the United Nations last week rolled out its most detailed profile of the scourge ever in a bid to slash the deadly toll.

"Fast action to tackle air pollution cannot come soon enough," top UN World Health Organisation (WHO) environmental official Maria Neira said of the new air quality model, which includes interactive maps that highlight areas within countries exceeding WHO limits. The world's population reached 7.35bn last year, according to UN figures.

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, as Dr Neira pointed out.

Nearly 90% of the deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly two out of three occurring in the South-east Asia and Western Pacific regions.

"Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations -- women, children and the older adults," WHO's assistant director general Flavia Bustreo said.

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

Some 3mn deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5mn deaths (11.6% of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.

As many as 94% of the deaths are due to non-communicable diseases -- notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.

This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than 6mn deaths -- one in nine of total global deaths -- from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, according to Dr Neira.

WHO's Ambient Air quality guidelines limit annual mean exposure to particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), such as sulphate, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, posing the greatest health risks.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda, adopted at a UN summit last year, call for substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from air pollution. In May, WHO issued a new road map for accelerated action with local health sectors increasing monitoring and assuming a greater leadership role in national policies affecting air pollution. What is required now is a concerted global effort to curb air pollution.

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Date:Oct 2, 2016
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