Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature Ujjwala Scheme came in for rich praise in a new WHO pollution report. The report nevertheless estimated that 9 out of 10 people around the world breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. An estimated 7 million people every year die of diseases caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution.
“While the latest data show ambient air pollution levels are still dangerously high in most parts of the world, they also show some positive progress. Countries are taking measures to tackle and reduce air pollution from particulate matter. For example, in just two years, India’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Scheme has provided some 37 million women living below the poverty line with free LPG connections to support them to switch to clean household energy use,” the report said.
Launched by Modi on May 1, 2016 in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) aims to safeguard the health of women & children. BPL families are given LPG connections with a support of Rs 1600 per connection in the next three years.
The report estimated that ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths. A total of 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia, the report said. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as “fine” particles and pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size, fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.
Commenting on the findings of the report, WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden. It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes. If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development.”
The report shows that more than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
“Many of the world’s megacities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than 5 times, representing a major risk to people’s health. We are seeing an acceleration of political interest in this global public health challenge. The increase in cities recording air pollution data reflects a commitment to air quality assessment and monitoring. Most of this increase has occurred in high-income countries, but we hope to see a similar scale-up of monitoring efforts worldwide,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health, Social and Environmental Determinants of Health at WHO.
The highest ambient air pollution levels are in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and in South-East Asia, with annual mean levels often exceeding more than 5 times WHO limits, followed by low and middle-income cities in Africa and the Western Pacific.