Pollution caused 1 in 8 deaths in 2012, UN calls for 'concerted action'

26 March 2014

BEIJING:  Air pollution caused the death of some 7 million people globally in 2012, according to new data released by the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO).

The international health body has revealed that air pollution is now the world’s greatest environmental health risk, and in 2012 was responsible for the premature death of one in eight people.

Furthermore, UN officials have recognized that outdoor air pollution, which took 3.7 million lives in 2012, is a ‘by-product’ of non-sustainable transport, energy, waste management and industrial policies.

High levels of pollution cause considerable risk to human health with both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure proven to have strong links to cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and cancer.

The figures reveal that air pollution is worst in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, where there was approximately 2.6 million deaths due to outdoor pollution and 3.3 million deaths tied to indoor air pollution in 2012.

Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, warned: “The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes. Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

China's smog

Air pollution is a severe problem in China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. In October of 2013, the north-eastern city of Harbin was forced to shut down after the index measurement of PM2.5 (or particulate matter) hit a shocking 1,000. The index measurement of PM2.5 should not rise above 300 given that toxicity at this level in the atmosphere is extremely dangerous to human beings’ health.

Spurred by pubic outcry over smog levels in China's cities, this month the government launched its New Urbanization Plan, which contains the strongest signal yet that China is serious about national pollution standards.

The detailed blueprint for urban development commits to “controlling high-emission industries and implementing an air pollution control plan for regional joint governance and controlled joint governance".

"Air pollution in China has reached critically high levels and must be addressed immediately,” remarked Changhua Wu, Greater China Director, The Climate Group. “Our government has committed to tackling this grave issue through the New Urbanization Plan, which is a welcome development and one which must be supported across all sectors of society. It is important to remember that we have the technology and the tools to mitigate future pollution, we just need the will to reform existing practice."

Related news:

China on track to spend US $817 billion in environmental protection

China promises to clean up its cities, which will be home to 60% of its population by 2020

62 countries now have 'flagship' legislation on climate change

By Alana Ryan

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