Nine out of 10 people globally live in places with poor air quality, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, blaming a worldwide air pollution crisis for being a major factor in millions of deaths per year.
In a new report released on Tuesday, the health agency said 92 percent of people live in areas where air quality exceeds WHO limits.
It also published an interactive map detailing the global “health emergency”.
“Some three million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution,” the UN body said in the report, which was based on data from 3,000 sites across the world.
“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.”
According to WHO, almost all of the air pollution-related deaths are due to non-communicable diseases, such cardiovascular illnesses, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
And 90 percent of the deaths reportedly occured in low and middle-income countries, with nearly two-thirds of them occurring in WHO’s Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions.
“Air pollution continues take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” said Flavia Bustreo, assistant director general at WHO.
The problem is most acute in cities, but air in rural areas is worse than many think, WHO experts said.
Pollution “affects practically all countries in the world and all parts of society”, Maria Neira, head of the WHO’s department of health and environment, said.
“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” she added, urging governments to cut the number of vehicles on the road, improve waste management and promote clean cooking fuel.
“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.”
In March, the UN released a report saying that 80 percent of city dwellers across the world were breathing poor quality air, noting that only two percent of cities in low and middle-income countries had air which met the UN body’s standards.
“Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health,” Neira said.