Air pollution in cities "is getting worse"

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Pollution increases the risk of life-threatening diseases and is on the rise globally, according to WHO’s latest data from 3,000 cities in 103 countries. Photo: World Bank/Curt Carnemark

The issue of air pollution in cities is getting worse and it's the most vulnerable members of society who suffer most, UN health experts have warned.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas are exposed to unhealthy air quality levels.

This pollution is a major cause of disease and death, and low-income countries are most affected.

Here's Daniel Johnson in Geneva.

The World Health Organization air pollution study of more than 3,000 cities in 103 countries makes for uncomfortable reading…

Particularly for almost anyone living in low to middle income countries.

For that's where, according to the latest data, 98 per cent of cities with more than 100,000 people do not meet clean air guidelines.

In richer countries, pollution levels are often significantly lower, although global air pollution levels are on the increase.

Every year, dirty air kills more than three million people prematurely.

Here's Maria Neira, director at the WHO's Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health:

"On a global figure, 80 per cent of the human population living in cities where the air quality is monitored are exposed to standards that are not the ones recommended by WHO, and are sometimes 10 times above the recommended standards by WHO."

Poor air quality means a higher risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer, along with acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.

The greatest risk to health comes from pollutants containing small and fine particulates including sulphates, nitrates and black carbon.

While the findings are disturbing, WHO says that the big increase in the number of cities which now monitor air quality shows that the problem is being taken more seriously than before.

And if you're wondering which is one of the most polluted cities to take part in the study, it's the Saudi capital Riyadh.

The cleanest? Muonio in Finland.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1’30″



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