Air pollution killed 7 million people in 2012, causing one in eight of the total deaths globally, said the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday.
The new estimate, which includes both outdoor and indoor air pollution, is almost double the earlier WHO estimate of 3.7 million deaths of outdoor air pollution in 2012.
Indoor air pollution caused 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in homes cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves, say the current estimates. Worldwide, 2.9 billion people live in homes using wood, coal or dung as their primary cooking fuel.
This makes air pollution the world’s biggest environmental health risk, with most deaths being caused by heart disease, strokes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is also linked to deaths from lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.
In India, air pollution is the biggest cause of death after high blood pressure, indoor air pollution (mainly from smoking chullahs), tobacco use, and poor nutrition.
Polluted outdoor air caused 6.2 premature deaths in India in 2010, the last year for which nationwide data is available. This was a six-fold jump from the 1 lakh deaths in 2000, said the Global Burden of Disease 2013, which tracks deaths and illnesses from all causes every 10 years.
“Most people link only asthma with air pollution, but now several studies have established the deadly linkages between pollution and early death from several diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and cancers. And going by the revised global estimates, the estimates for India are like to double too,” says Sunita Narain, director-general of the Centre for Science and Environment.
Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two -- Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala -- meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).
“India needs policy action, such as taxing diesel. We can’t have another finance minister who makes SUVs cheaper without thinking about environment and health even when there’s clear evidence that cleaning up the air lowers disease burden,” she added.
“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution.”
The new global of people’s exposure to outdoor air pollution were formulated through a new global data mapping that included satellite data, ground-level monitoring measurements and data on pollution emissions from key sources, as well as modelling of how pollution drifts in the air.
Deaths due to outdoor air pollution
• 40% - ischaemic heart disease;
• 40% - stroke;
• 11% - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• 6% - lung cancer;
• 3% - acute lower respiratory infections in children.
Deaths caused by indoor air pollution
• 34% - stroke;
• 26% - ischaemic heart disease;
• 22% - COPD;
• 12% - acute lower respiratory infections in children;
• 6% - lung cancer.