WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that air pollution is killing 7 million people per year and causing harm to billions of others. Smoking is said to result in the deaths of 6 million tobacco users and close to one million non-smokers annually, according to figures from the inter-governmental agency.
The decline in smoking rates has seen air pollution top tobacco use in terms of deaths caused and The Guardian said the WHO's estimate of 7 million is likely a conservative one.
“No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency,” the newspaper quoted Ghebreyesus as saying. “The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day.”
The WHO says 91 per cent of the world’s population live in areas where air pollution is listed as being above its safe limits. The WHO Ambient Air Quality Database measures the annual mean concentration of particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, with 10 micrograms being considered a safe level.
According to the databsae, nine of the world’s ten most polluted cities in 2018 were located in India. The city of Kanpur recorded 173 micrograms and Delhi recorded 143 micrograms. Bamenda, Cameroon recorded 132 micrograms in 2016 and Kampala, Uganda, recorded 104. Baoding, in northern China, recorded 93 micrograms in 2018. Lima, Peru was South America’s most polluted capital city in 2018, with a rating of four times the WHO's safe level.
The first global conference on air pollution is being hosted by the WHO in Geneva this week.