Air turning deadly
Pollution and, particularly, air pollution is getting deadly by the day the world over. Some countries may be a little better off than the others but the matter has assumed alarming proportions. Nine out of every 10 people on the planet breathe air that contains high levels of pollutants and kills seven million people each year, according to a new study by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The study is an analysis of what the WHO says is the world's most comprehensive database on ambient air pollution. The organisation collected the data from more than 4,300 cities and 108 countries. No doubt that air pollution represents today not only the biggest environmental risk but is a major challenge for public health at large. Particle pollution, a mix of solid and liquid droplets in the air, can get sucked into and embedded deep in the lungs when breathing. That can lead to health conditions including asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD. These outdoor particulates including nitrates and black carbon are largely created by car and truck traffic, manufacturing and power plants. In total, air pollution caused about 4.2 million deaths in 2016, according to the WHO. Many of the world's megacities exceed WHO's guideline levels for air quality by more than five times, representing a major risk to people's health. People in Asia and Africa face the biggest problems as more than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths happen in these continents. But cities in the Americas, Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean also have air pollution levels that are beyond what the WHO considers healthy. But that cannot compare to cities like Peshawar and Rawalpindi in Pakistan which have some of the highest particulate air pollution levels in the database. Varanasi and Kanpur in India; Cairo; and Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, also show high levels. For cleaner air, one has to go to places like Arizona (population 2,882) or Wyoming (population 64,019). Alaska and Hawaii are all on the cleaner-air list. The other large source of air pollution, a problem most common in developing regions, is in people's homes. More than 40 per cent of the world's population does not have access to clean cooking technology, the WHO says. Families use wood, dung or charcoal in cooking stoves or open fires to make meals and heat their homes, creating airborne particulates indoors. Technological improvements have not kept up with population growth, resulting in about 3.8 million deaths from household pollution alone in 2016. The good news is that many cities are monitoring air pollution. Matters can be taken up at a local level to reduce air pollution. Experts suggest replacing driving with walking, biking or availing public transportation.