Air pollution has been termed as the world’s largest single environmental health risk by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the recently concluded World Health Assembly in Geneva last week. After debating the topic for the first time ever, the assembly adopted a resolution to address the health impacts of air pollution. It said that air pollution annually accounts for eight million deaths worldwide – with China and India as the worst affected countries. Thus, deaths due to air pollution (both outdoor and indoor pollution) have increased four-fold over the last decade.

“The resolution highlights the key role national health authorities need to play in raising awareness about the potential to save lives and reduce health costs, if air pollution is addressed effectively,” said a press statement of the WHO. The latest studies by WHO and other international agencies have shown that exposure to air pollution leads to severe risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes, ischaemic heart disease and respiratory diseases.

According to WHO’s International Agency on Research for Cancer, fine particulate matter can cause lung cancer. WHO’s resolution called for all countries to develop air quality monitoring systems and health registries to improve surveillance for all air-pollution related illnesses.

WHO member states have also been asked to promote clean cooking, heating and lighting technologies and fuels; and strengthen international transfer of expertise, technologies and scientific data in the field of air pollution. WHO has last year ranked Delhi as the most polluted among 1,600 cities in the world, surpassing Bejing. The WHO report shows the air pollution in Delhi is 10 times higher than acceptable standards. At its next assembly, WHO is expected to propose a roadmap for an enhanced global response by the health sector that reduces he adverse health effects of air pollution. Experts say policies and investments supporting cleaner transport, energy-efficient housing, power generation, industry and better municipal waste management would reduce key sources of urban outdoor air pollution.

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