Pakistan experiences steepest increase in air pollution levels

Indian commuters make their way through heavy smog in Amritsar in November 2017

Indian commuters make their way through heavy smog in Amritsar in November 2017

More than 95 percent of the world's population is breathing polluted, unsafe air and the hardest hit areas are in Africa and Asia, a major study of global air pollution has found. Combustion emissions from multiple sources, including household solid fuel use, coal-fired power plants, agricultural and another open burning, and industrial and transportation-related sources have contributed to the increase in air pollution.

The report, known as the State of Global Air and produced by the Health Effects Institute, analyzed satellite data and other air-quality monitors to figure out what percentage of the world is exposed to air polluted above levels that the World Health Organization deems as safe.

Researchers found that air pollution is the top environmental cause of death globally, and ranks fourth overall among risk factors -behind high blood pressure, smoking, and dietary choices.

Experts estimate that exposure to air pollution contributed to more than 6m deaths worldwide a year ago, playing a role in increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease. China and India accounted for more than half of the death toll. While developed countries have made moves to clean up, many developing countries have fallen further behind as they continue to seek economic growth.

"There are reasons for optimism, though there is a long way to go", Bob O'Keefe, vice-president of the institute, told The Guardian. "India has really begun to step up on indoor air pollution, for instance through the provision of LPG [liquefied petroleum gas] as a cooking fuel, and through electrification".

High levels of "fine particulate matter" has consistently been linked to premature deaths and high levels of illnesses in air pollution studies. "People now have the ability to worry about not just the food they eat and a roof over the head, but they have the means to discuss [issues] in public", he said.

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