The World Health Organization has singled out air pollution as the number one environmental health risk in the world. In 2012, more than 7 million people worldwide died as result of exposure to either indoor or outdoor air pollution — one of every eight deaths — the Geneva-based organization warns in a report released today.
The death toll, calculated on the basis of a global analysis of pollution-related health risks and mortality across all ages in rural and urban areas, more than double previous estimates.
Low- and middle-income countries in the WHO’s South-East Asia and Western Pacific Regions — the latter including China, the Philippines and Vietnam — bear the main share of the burden. In 2012, around 3.3 million deaths in those regions were related to indoor air pollution and a further 2.6 million to outdoor air pollution, according to the WHO report.
Heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections in children are among the most common diseases linked to air pollution, it says.
Leaky coal and wood stoves are the main cause for widespread indoor air pollution in poor countries. Women and children who stay at home and breathe in smoke and soot are most at risk, says Flavia Bustreo, the WHO’s assistant director-general for family, women and children’s health.
“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents non-communicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly,” she says.
The WHO says that it will later this year release indoor air quality guidelines on household fuel combustion. It will also publish new country-by-country data on exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution and updated air quality measurements from 1,600 cities across the globe.