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Global Air Pollution Crisis

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Air pollution has become a growing concern in the past few years, with an increasing number of acute air pollution episodes in many cities worldwide. As a result, data on air quality is becoming increasingly available and the science underlying the related health impacts is also evolving rapidly. To date, air pollution – both ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) – is the biggest environmental risk to health, carrying responsibility for about one in every nine deaths annually.


According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics in 2018:

  • 91% of the world population breathes polluted air (above the WHO Air Quality Guidelines):

  • Ambient air pollution results in 4.2 million deaths each year;

  • Household/indoor air pollution results in 3.8 million deaths each year;

  • 97% of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. (49% in high-income countries);

  • 93% of children under 18 years play and live with air pollution levels above WHO guidelines. The long-term effects of childhood exposure to air pollution are unquantified.

The health effects of air pollution are serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution. Consequently, air pollution is identified as a global health priority in the sustainable development agenda. WHO has responsibility for stewarding three air pollution-related indicators for monitoring progress against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): in health (Goal 3), in cities (Goal 11) and in energy (Goal 7).


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