95% of the world’s population breathes a ‘dangerous’ air and above the recommended limits of pollution, according to the State of Global Air report from the Health Effects Institute (HEI). Cities, where more than half of the planet’s 7,500 million inhabitants congregate, are the breeding ground of what is already considered the fourth deadly factor, after high blood pressure, bad diet and tobacco.
Indoor and outdoor pollution, caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels, contributes to 6.5 million premature deaths per year, with a special incidence in the large megalopolises of India and China or in rural areas of Africa where coal and wood is still the main energy source in homes.
“The gap between the most polluted and least polluted areas on the planet is getting bigger year after year,” said Bob OKeefe, vice president of the HEI, based in Boston, which has combined data obtained by satellite with measurements at ground level in more from 150 countries.
The ecological gap grows
“In developed countries, there is the awareness and determination to clean the air to ensure the health of citizens,” OKeefe stressed. “But in developing countries, pollution control is behind the boost to economic growth.”
The ‘blip’ of pollution, comparable to that of wealth, is almost double what it was at the end of the 1990s. Although the measures were taken in recent years by China and India, where one in four premature deaths due to poor air quality are recorded, are reasons for a relative ‘optimism’, according to the Health Effects Institute report.
“China is moving aggressively to cut dependence on coal and impose greater controls on air quality in cities,” said Bob OKeefe. “India has also taken a step forward to combat domestic pollution, promoting electrification with clean energy and liquefied petroleum gas as an alternative to domestic coal.”
It is estimated that 2,600 million inhabitants are exposed to indoor pollution levels in homes above the maximum recommended. The World Health Organization (WHO) has placed special emphasis on combating this invisible enemy that affects developing countries.
Emissions from transport, industry and thermal power plants are also the main responsible for external pollution. While Western cities have declared war on diesel and have raised barriers to traffic, millions of gasoline vehicles are still circulating in developing countries, exceeding all permitted limits and without any type of control.
OKeefe has highlighted how in the last decade has been increasing the pressure on local authorities, thanks to social media campaigns and greater public awareness about the effects of poor air quality, which has become the greatest risk environmental for human health and can contribute to death from respiratory diseases, heart disease, and stroke.
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