Beijing is no longer at the top spot as the most polluted city. New data conducted by the World Health Organization has found that most of the world’s polluted cities are in India with Delhi leading the pack.
We breathe it in every day, but according to WHO a stark new warning has been issued claiming that air pollution has reached deadly levels in many of the world’s major cities.
From Kabul in Afghanistan to Hong Kong in China, and from São Paulo in Latin America to Poland’s most popular mountain resort, Zakopane, poor air quality is killing millions and threatening health services as hospitals and health clinics become flooded with people experiencing heart and respiratory problems.
The new data from WHO has found that air pollution has deteriorated since 2014 in urban areas that were already affected. As a consequence, WHO believe that there is now a global “public health emergency” which will have financial implications for governments to deal with. The latest data, to be released this month, which was compiled from 2,000 cities, comes after Beijing’s pollution “red alert” last year, demonstrating how air quality has worsened due to population growth in many areas combined with the toxic fumes from the growing number of diesel cars, construction dust, toxic gases from power generation, and wood burning in people’s homes.
Shockingly, the toxic haze that blankets many cities can also be observed from the international space station, clearly indicating how thick the dark cloud that covers many cities is.
While the problem is severe in India, as this real time visual map shows, many industrialized countries have also been hit by the smog in the run up to the end of the year and into 2016. Traffic was banned for several days over Christmas in places such as Milan and Naples, while several London streets already breached their yearly limits for nitrogen dioxide just days into 2016. Under EU rules, areas are only permitted to breach hourly limits of emissions 18 times per year; however, Oxford Street, Putney High Street, and Knightsbridge have already used up their annual quotas. Unsurprisingly, the British government is receiving pressure to do more on tackling air pollution as it faces court action over poor air quality.
Bigger Threat than HIV
According to a recent study conducted by the science journal Nature, which was led by Johannes Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute for chemistry in Germany, people mostly die from air pollution than HIV and malaria combined and warned that, unless action is taken, the number of deaths will double by 2050.
According to the UN, there are now over 3 million premature deaths each year as a result of air pollution, with around three-quarters of those from strokes and heart attacks. With around 1.4 million deaths a year, China recorded the highest number of air pollution fatalities, with India following with 645,000, and Pakistan with 110,000.
When the new data is released later this month from WHO it will clearly show that air pollution conditions are worsening rather than improving. In 2014, when the last study was undertaken, 13 out of the 20 most polluted cities were located in India with Delhi topping the chart. Furthermore, of the worst 100 areas, WHO discovered that nearly 70 of those were in Asia, while only a handful were in Europe and America.
Time for Action
Action needs to happen for air quality to improve and many countries are taking positive steps.
Delhi undertook a two-week trial that removed a third of the city’s three million private cares from roads by alternating entry to odd and even numbered plates in addition to banning large diesel SUVs. While authorities reported a 50% drop in air pollution, this has been disputed.
China has gone one step further by copying Western countries and moving power stations out of cities. Some areas have experienced an improvement in air quality; however, big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing still have poor air quality.
Baby steps are no doubt being taken, but unless more action is done poor air quality will continue to affect millions of people. More social pressure and more awareness is needed and unless governments do more, people won’t realise how serious the situation at hand is.
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