02/06/2015 7:54 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

WHO: Air Pollution Is The World's 'Largest Single Environmental Risk'

JOHN MACDOUGALL via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA: A Delhi motorcyclist wears an air-filter while waiting for the light to change at a downtown crossing, 05 June 2000 in New Delhi. India was rated the worst country in Asia for air, water and noise pollution by a private think-tank. The world celebrates Environment Day 05 June. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Air pollution is the world's "largest single environmental risk", according to the World Health Assembly, which closed last week in Geneva. The assembly passed a "landmark" resolution on air pollution after debating the topic for the first time ever.

"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," according to a press statement from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Air pollution annually accounts for eight million deaths worldwide — with more than half of these a result of exposure to indoor air pollution.

The resolution has stressed the need for strong cooperation across sectors. WHO member states have been asked to develop air quality monitoring systems and separate health registries that can keep an eye on all air-pollution related illnesses. States have 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."

The WHO secretariat too will provide technical assistance to states to help take action on air pollution. It will help countries implement all WHO air quality guidelines, improve research on health effects of air pollution. By next year, WHO is expected to propose a "road map for an enhanced global response by the health sector that reduces the adverse health effects of air pollution."

India's Pollution Problem

While India was not part of the delegation from 14 countries that passed the resolution, it is perhaps here that the issue is most pressing. It has 13 of the world's top 25 most-polluted cities, and WHO last year ranked Delhi the most polluted city in the world.

Air pollution is a risk factor for ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and cancer, according to WHO.

About half of the deaths due to acute lower respiratory infections, including pneumonia in children under five years can be due to household air pollution. Meanwhile fine particulate matter can cause lung cancer, according to WHO’s International Agency on Research for Cancer.

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