New Delhi: Air pollution is killing nearly 8,00,000 people annually in the South East Asian Region with India alone accounting for over 75% of the casualties caused by cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer, according to a new WHO report released on Tuesday.
The report said nine out of 10 people globally are breathing poor quality air while nearly 90% of air pollution related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, with nearly two out of three occurring in WHO's South-East Asia, including India and Western Pacific regions.
"It is a public health emergency," said Maria Neira, the head of the World Health Organization's department of public health and environment.
The report also called for strengthening measures against inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants and industrial activities — some of the major sources of air pollution.
It said 94% are due to non-communicable diseases notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and that air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.
A WHO South East Asian Region (SEAR) statement said: "Air pollution is the world's biggest environmental risk to health and must be addressed on a priority basis as it continues to rise, causing long lasting disease and illness in addition to around 7,99,000 deaths annually in countries of the WHO SEAR."
WHO SEAR statement quoting the WHO Report on Ambient Air Pollution 2016 said that 6,21,138 people died in India of air pollution due to acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI), chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), ischemic heart disease (IHD) and lung cancer.
The highest — 2,49,388 died of IHD in India, the report said, adding that 1,95,001 people died of stroke. Similarly, 1,10,500 people died of COPD while 26,334 people died of lung cancer. However, the data for India is of 2012.
Giving data of 2012, WHO, in its new report, said in terms of PM10, Gwalior was the most polluted and had an average mean micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) of 329. According to the 2012 data, Delhi PM10 pollution levels were 229 annual mean ug/m3 while for PM2.5, WHO gave the 2013 data, which stood at 122 ug/m3. Among other cities, Raipur had a PM10 level of 268 ug/m3 for 2012.
"The new WHO burden of disease estimates shows that 94% of the premature deaths caused by air pollution are due to cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancers.”
"The remaining are from acute respiratory infections in children under five years of age. The magnitude of the health impact of air pollution calls for urgent action to prevent these avoidable risks and deaths," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia.
The report represents the most detailed outdoor (or ambient) air pollution-related health data, by country, ever reported by WHO.