Urban air quality getting worse

Bogotà has improved air quality by prioritising urban public transport, walking and cycling. Photo: Adam Jones/flickr.com/cc by-sa

About half of the urban population being monitored worldwide is exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels recommended by the WHO.

The urban air quality database of the World Health Organization (WHO) now covers 1600 cities across 91 countries – 500 more cities than the previous database issued in 2011. This shows that more and more cities worldwide are monitoring outdoor air quality, reflecting a growing recognition of air pollution’s health risks.

Only 12 per cent of the people living in cities reporting on air quality reside in cities where the pollution levels comply with the WHO’s air quality guideline levels. About half of the urban population being monitored is exposed to air pollution levels that are at least 2.5 times higher than the guidelines recommended by the WHO – putting those people at additional risk of serious, long-term health problems.

In most of these cities air pollution is getting worse, often due to reliance on fossil fuels such as coal-fired power plants for electricity generation, dependence on private transport motor vehicles, inefficient use of energy in buildings, and the use of biomass for cooking and heating.

Some of the most polluted cities are: Dakar (Senegal); Mexico City, Karachi (Pakistan); Ulaanbataar (Mongolia) and Seoul (South Korea). However, thirteen of the dirtiest twenty cities are Indian, with New Delhi, Patna, Gwalior and Raipur in the top four spots.

“We can win the fight against air pollution and reduce the number of people suffering from respiratory and heart disease, as well as lung cancer,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Effective policies and strategies are well understood, but they need to be implemented at sufficient scale. Cities such as Copenhagen and Bogotà, for example, have improved air quality by promoting ‘active transport’ and prioritising dedicated networks of urban public transport, walking and cycling.”

Christer Ågren

Source: WHO press release 7 May 2014. 

The ambient air pollution in cities database 2014

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