Only 7 countries meet WHO air quality standard

A recent report reveals that only seven countries are meeting the international air quality standard, while air pollution continues to worsen in many areas due to increased economic activity and the harmful effects of wildfire smoke. Out of 134 countries and regions surveyed, only Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius, and New Zealand adhere to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline limit for tiny airborne particles known as PM2.5, emitted by vehicles, industrial processes, and other sources.

PM2.5, which poses significant health risks when inhaled, remains a pervasive issue globally, with most countries failing to meet the WHO standard. The report, conducted by IQAir, a Swiss organization that monitors air quality using data from over 30,000 stations worldwide, underscores the serious implications of air pollution for public health.

Despite overall improvements in air quality compared to previous centuries, pollution levels remain dangerously high in certain regions. Pakistan ranks as the most polluted country, with PM2.5 levels exceeding the WHO standard by more than 14 times. Other heavily affected nations include India, Tajikistan, and Burkina Faso.

Even in affluent and rapidly developing countries, efforts to reduce air pollution face challenges. Canada, for instance, experienced a surge in PM2.5 levels last year due to extensive wildfires, while China saw a rise in pollution levels amid post-pandemic economic recovery.

Glory Dolphin Hammes, North America chief executive of IQAir, expressed concern over the lack of sufficient action to address air pollution, emphasizing the urgent need for adjustments to mitigate its harmful effects. Air pollution claims an estimated 7 million lives annually worldwide, disproportionately affecting developing nations reliant on dirty fuels for energy.

The report highlights the need for improved air quality monitoring and the implementation of solutions such as promoting walkable cities, revising forestry practices to reduce wildfire impacts, and transitioning to clean energy alternatives. Aidan Farrow, senior air quality scientist at Greenpeace International, stressed the urgency of addressing air pollution as a global health crisis, emphasizing the importance of implementing existing solutions to mitigate its devastating effects.

Furthermore, the report underscores the urgency of enhancing air quality monitoring efforts to better understand and address this pressing global health issue. Despite advancements in air quality regulations and initiatives, the data highlights persistent disparities and injustices in air pollution’s impacts, particularly on vulnerable populations.

The WHO’s recent adjustment of the “safe” PM2.5 guideline to a more stringent level reflects growing recognition of the significant health risks posed by even minimal exposure to air pollution. Research from US scientists has reinforced this, revealing that there may be no safe threshold for PM2.5 exposure, with even minor levels linked to increased hospitalizations for conditions like heart disease and asthma.

To combat this crisis, stakeholders must prioritize actionable solutions. This includes making cities more pedestrian-friendly to reduce reliance on cars, implementing sustainable forestry practices to mitigate wildfire smoke, and accelerating the transition to clean energy sources. Collaboration at the international level is essential, as air pollution knows no borders, and collective efforts are needed to safeguard public health and the environment.

Aidan Farrow’s call for urgent action resonates, emphasizing the imperative of implementing existing solutions to address this global health emergency. As the world grapples with the far-reaching impacts of air pollution, concerted efforts must be made to prioritize public health and environmental sustainability. Only through decisive action and cooperation can we hope to mitigate the devastating effects of air pollution and create a healthier, cleaner future for all.

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