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| Last Updated:: 29/05/2015

WHO singles out air pollution as major health hazard

 Putting air pollution on global priority, the World Health Organisation has adopted a resolution on health impacts of air pollution, and urged its member countries to implement its guidelines on air quality.


The 68th World Health Assembly, the top decision-making body of WHO which meets every year in Geneva, adopted the resolution on Tuesday night. The resolution highlights the health risks presented by air pollution, both indoor and outdoor, and the kind of steps governments need to take to improve air quality in their respective countries.


This is the first time that air pollution and its associated health risks have been discussed at the highest forum of WHO. Adoption of such a resolution by the WHO means that air pollution would not just be seen as an environmental problem but also as a major health hazard. It would also energise efforts being made to curb pollution and encourage donors and funding agencies to channelise money towards these efforts.


The WHO resolution notes that about 8 million premature deaths happened in 2012 because of bad air quality, making it the world’s single largest environmental health risk. Of this, 4.3 million deaths could be directly attributable to exposure to indoor air pollution, arising mainly out of combustion of solid fuels like wood and coal.


The rest, 3.7 million deaths, were caused by outdoor air pollution. Almost 90 per cent of the deaths were reported in low and middle-income countries. The resolution asks member countries to “redouble their efforts” to identify, address and prevent the health impacts of air pollution in their own regions and also contribute to global response.


 The resolution says countries need to encourage and promote measures that will lead to meaningful progress in reducing levels of indoor air pollution such as clean cooking, heating and lighting processes and efficient energy use.


 It urges the member countries to develop air quality monitoring systems and health registries to improve surveillance for all illnesses related to air pollution. India recently unveiled a composite air pollution index to monitor air quality in some of its cities. The initiative will be subsequently expanded to include other smaller cities as well.


The resolution asks the WHO to strengthen its technical capabilities to provide help to member countries in implementing guidelines on air quality.