Take a deep breath, but in the city what ...

Take a deep breath, but in the city what ...

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"Quick measures to curb air pollution will not come too soon," said María Neira, environmental manager of the World Health Organization (WHO), on September 27, commenting on the air quality model, which includes interactive maps highlighting the areas that, in the countries studied, exceed the limits set by the Geneva-based agency.

The world population reached 7.350 million people in 2015, according to data from the United Nations.

What steps do you have to take?

"The solutions include providing sustainable transport in cities, good waste management, access to clean domestic kitchens and heating methods, as well as using renewable energy and reducing industrial emissions," Neira explained.

Almost 90 percent of deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly two out of every three deaths in Southeast Asian and Western Pacific nations.

"Air pollution continues to impact the health of the most vulnerable populations, women, girls, children and the elderly," observed the assistant to the director general of WHO, Flavia Bustreo.

"For people to stay healthy, they must breathe clean air, from the first inhalation to the last," he added.

Not all air pollution is the result of human activities. For example, air quality also depends on sandstorms, especially in areas near deserts.

"The new WHO model shows where the most dangerous places are in terms of pollution and offers a basis for monitoring the progress of efforts to combat it," said Bustreo.

Developed in collaboration with the British University of Bath, the WHO report presents the most detailed data that has been collected so far on pollution from abroad, in relation to its effects on human health thanks to satellite measurements, transport models air and ground stations at more than 3,000 sites, both rural and urban.

Indoor air pollution is just as harmful as outdoor air

About three million deaths a year are related to exposure to polluted outdoor air. But indoor pollution is no less dangerous. In 2012, 6.5 million deaths were recorded, 11.6 percent of those recorded that year, were linked to air pollution, both indoor and outdoor.

About 94 percent of those deaths stem from noncommunicable diseases, especially cardiovascular problems, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risk of acute respiratory infections.

"The new model represents a great leap in the availability of reliable estimates on the enormous global burden that the more than six million deaths, one in nine of all registered, derived from exposure to polluted air," said Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health of the WHO.

The WHO ambient air quality guidelines limit the average annual exposure to particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, such as sulfates, nitrates and black carbon, which enter the lungs and the cardiovascular system, putting at risk the people's health.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda, adopted by the UN in 2015, call for a substantial reduction in the number of people who die or get sick from breathing polluted air.

The problem of sustainable cities, also one of the SDGs, will be the focus of the media and civil society workshop organized by IPS and the UN Foundation on October 27 and 28 in Quito.

The Ecuador workshop is part of a series of training initiatives carried out by IPS and the foundation in October and November under the slogan "Decoding the future." The other two will be in two European countries and another one in Asia.

Disconnection between people and environment

No region is spared from polluted air, not even prosperous Europe.

Air pollution, climate change, unhealthy lifestyles and the disconnection between people and the environment increasingly affect human health in Eurasia, according to the latest report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The report, released June 8, calls for greater cooperation and a more integrated approach to address cross-border challenges in Eurasia, which includes 53 countries in Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and also Israel.

Of those challenges, poor air quality is the biggest threat, with more than 95 percent of the European Union's urban population exposed to high levels of pollution and above WHO guidelines, according to the latest Global Environmental Outlook. (GEO-6), released on September 29 by the Nairobi UNEP and the UNECE.

More than 500,000 premature deaths in that region in 2012 were attributed to poor outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air, the assessment notes.

UNEP and CEPE warned that a change that goes from incremental to transformational is urgently needed to help reverse some of the indicators.

"The GEO-6 assessment of Eurasia underlines how a transition to an inclusive and green economy must be based on resilient ecosystems, good chemical management and clean production systems, as well as healthy consumption choices," said Jan Dusik, Director of the European office of UNEP.

The report also concludes that the environmental challenges facing the region have become systemic and complex, while the ability to address them will depend on megatrends beyond its control.

"The report provides new information on emerging environmental problems in the region and will help governments design policies for the future," said CEPE Executive Secretary Friis Bach.

Other challenges presented in the GEO-6 assessment are climate change, considered one of the great threats to humanity and the health of ecosystems, as well as to sustainable development in Eurasia.

Global warming "is also an accelerator of many other environmental risks, with health consequences through floods, heat waves, droughts, lower agricultural productivity, exacerbated air pollution, allergies, vectors and diseases derived from contaminated food and water" ,

By Baher Kamal
Translated by Verónica Firme

IPS News

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