A new report to be released on July 9 by OpenAQ – an international NGO based in Washington DC – reveals the huge global inequality in access to information about air quality.
The study, ‘Open Air Quality Data: The Global State of Play’, examined 212 countries and found that 109 (51 per cent) governments are not producing air quality data of any major pollutants, while 103 are. Among the defaulters are major powers like China, India, Russia, the Philippines, Brazil and South Africa.
OpenAQ has published a full list of air quality monitoring by governments, which is publicly available.
Over half of the world’s population has no access to official government data on air quality, despite the fact that nine of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants, according to the World Health Organisation.
The research is being supported by scientists at NASA, who use the OpenAQ system. Combining NASA’s satellite data of air pollution with OpenAQ’s system “has the potential to bring air quality information to everyone in the world”.
OpenAQ analysed 500 million data points from 11,000 air monitoring stations in 93 countries to compare the number of air pollution monitoring stations with levels of PM 2.5 (particulate matter – a deadly form of air pollution linked to heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and diabetes) and found that greater the number of stations, the lower the pollution levels.
Dr Christa Hasenkopf, an atmospheric scientist who founded OpenAQ, said that the first step to improve the air we breathe is to provide better access to air quality data. According to the report, 51 per cent of countries, in which 1.4 billion people live, do not produce publicly-available air quality data despite it being called “the greatest environmental risk to health” by the WHO.
They are also thought to be some of the worst countries for outdoor air pollution, which leads to 4.2 million deaths every year – with 90 per cent of deaths in low and middle-income countries.
Some countries like Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia do not produce any national, public air pollution data. Others like China, India, Russia, Philippines, Brazil and South Africa do not share data in an open and transparent manner, the report said.
Few overseas aid programmes focus on air quality, and only 0.02 per cent of foundation donations target clean air directly ($1 in every $5,000).
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