The World Health Assembly passed a resolution on air pollution and health this week, identifying 13 measures that member states should implement, including guidelines to limit exposure to air pollution and working with private and public entities on sustainable solutions.
Air pollution causes between 7 to 8 million deaths per year, a four-fold increase since 2005, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization. Around 4.3 million deaths are attributed to indoor pollution, while outdoor pollution causes 3.7 million deaths.
At the 68th assembly, held in Geneva over the past week, the delegations of Albania, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Monaco, Norway, Panama, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United States of America, Uruguay and Zambia passed the air pollution resolution.
“This is a major landmark,” Maria Neira, WHO’s director for public health, environmental and social determinants of health, said in a statement. “Member states have now pledged to tackle in a concerted way the largest single environmental health risk that we face today.”
The resolution encourages member states to tackle the problem of air pollution through education, raising awareness, and devoting resources to research and collecting surveillance data. In addition, members should then use that data to develop air quality standards. They should also promote measures to reduce indoor air pollution such as clean cooking and lighting, and efficient energy use. Countries should also work with at-risk communities to reduce health inequities related to air pollution.
Outdoor air pollution is particularly bad in places like Beijing, where in January, levels of air pollution were so high, they went off the chart. Between 2002 and 2010, lung cancer rates in Beijing rose over 50 percent.
Smog is bad elsewhere, too. Last year, a study published in Geophysical Research Letters found that India’s air pollution damaged 6.7 million tons of crops.
Around 3 billion people cook or heat their homes using open wood fires or coal-burning stoves — the primary causes of indoor air pollution. Smoke in the home can exceed acceptable levels 100-fold.