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WHO on air pollution in global cities

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its database on urban air quality, now covering information on 1600 cities across 91 countries. The data shows that in most cities worldwide, people breathe in air that is considered to be harmful to health.

The latest data is a significant step in WHO’s ongoing work to advance a roadmap for preventing diseases related to air pollution. The WHO continues to call for greater awareness of health risks caused by air pollution, the implementation of effective air pollution mitigation policies, and close monitoring of the situation in cities across the world.

Air quality in most cities worldwide that monitor outdoor (ambient) air pollution fails to meet WHO guidelines for safe levels, putting people at additional risk of respiratory disease and other health problems.

500 more cities are included in the updated database, revealing that more cities worldwide are monitoring outdoor air quality, reflecting growing recognition of the health risks of air pollution. Although the WHO does not group together cities in the EU, a European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment shows that 90 percent of the population in Europe’s cities is exposed to air quality concentrations above the WHO guidelines.

About half of the urban population being monitored is exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels WHO recommends - putting those people at additional risk of serious, long-term health problems.

In most cities where there is enough data to compare the situation today with previous years, air pollution is getting worse. The factors contributing to this increase include a reliance on fossil fuels such as coal fired power plants, private transport, energy inefficiency in buildings and the use of biomass for cooking and heating.

Despite this increase however, some cities are making notable improvements showing that air quality can be improved by implementing policy measures such as banning the use of coal for heating in buildings or using renewable fuels for electricity production and improving the efficiency of vehicle engines.

The WHO’s ongoing work to advance a roadmap for preventing diseases related to air pollution involves the development of a global platform on air quality and health to generate better data on air pollution-related diseases and strengthened support to countries and cities through guidance, information and evidence about the health gains associated with different activities.

The database is available here http://www.who.int/phe/health_topics/outdoorair/databases/cities/en/

Originally posted on 26 June 2014

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