Over 95 per cent of the world’s population breathe unsafe air, with India and China together contributing to over half of the global deaths due to pollution caused by small particulate matter, according to a report.
The research found that the burden of pollution is falling hardest on the poorest communities, with the gap between the most polluted and least polluted countries rising rapidly.
While cities expose billions to unsafe air, people in rural areas face increased indoor air pollution caused by burning solid fuels. One in three people worldwide face the double whammy of unsafe air both indoors and out, the ‘State of Global Air Report’ found.
Researchers from the Health Effects Institute (HEI) in the US used estimated the numbers of people exposed to air polluted above the levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation using new satellite data.
This exposure has made air pollution the greatest environmental health risk and the fourth highest cause of death globally, after high blood pressure, diet and smoking.
Exposure to air pollution contributed to more than 6 million deaths worldwide last year, 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 (51 per cent) of the death toll, according to the report.
Burning solid fuel such as coal or biomass in their homes for cooking or heating exposed 2.6 billion people to indoor air pollution in 2016, ‘The Guardian’ reported.
Indoor air pollution can also affect air quality in the surrounding area, with this effect contributing to one in four pollution deaths in India and nearly one in five in China.
“There are reasons for optimism, though there is a long way to go,” said Bob O’Keefe, vice-president at HEI.
“China seems to be now moving pretty aggressively, for instance in cutting coal and on stronger controls. 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,” O’Keefe said.
The number of people exposed to indoor air pollution from burning solid fuels has fallen from an estimated 3.6 billion around the world in 1990 to about 2.4 billion today, despite a rising population.