Air pollution is far deadlier than the coronavirus: new data ranks health threat in cities from worst to best

Pollution

Goldach, Switzerland – Air pollution continues to pose one of the biggest threats to human health, with 90% of the global population breathing unsafe air.

The latest data compiled by IQAir, published in the 2019 World Air Quality Report and the most polluted cities ranking, reveals the changing state of particulate pollution (PM2.5) around the world during 2019. The new dataset highlights elevated air pollution levels as a result of climate change events, such as sandstorms and wildfires, and pollution gains from the rapid urbanization of cities, in regions such as Southeast Asia. While some achievements have been made in air quality monitoring infrastructure globally, there are still huge gaps in access to data around the world.

Frank Hammes, IQAir CEO said: 

“While the new coronavirus is dominating international headlines, a silent killer is contributing to nearly 7 million more deaths a year: air pollution. Through compiling and visualizing data from thousands of air quality monitoring stations, the 2019 World Air Quality Report gives new context to the world’s leading environmental health threat.”

Key findings from the report include: 

  • In China: Chinese cities achieved a 9% average decrease in PM2.5 levels in 2019, after a 12% decrease in 2018. Still, 98% of cities exceeded WHO guidelines and 53% of cities exceed China’s less stringent national targets. In the last decade Beijing has more than halved its annual PM2.5 levels. This year, Beijing dropped out of the ranking’s top 200 most polluted cities.
  • In South Korea: South Korea was the most polluted country for PM2.5 among OECD countries during 2019. Air quality levels in key cities have remained relatively stagnant over recent years.
  • In India: Whilst cities in India, on average, exceed the WHO target for annual PM2.5 exposure by 500%, national air pollution decreased by 20% from 2018 to 2019, with 98% of cities experiencing improvements. These improvements are believed to be largely a result of economic slow-down.
  • In South Asia: Indian and Pakistani cities again dominate the world’s most polluted cities for PM2.5 in 2019. Twenty-one out of the top 30 most polluted cities are located in India. Five of the top 30 most polluted cities are located in Pakistan.
  • In Southeast Asia: In a historic shift reflecting the region’s rapid industrialization, urban hubs Jakarta and Hanoi overtook Beijing for the first time, among the world’s most PM2.5 polluted capital cities.
  • Wildfires and open burning agricultural practices had a major impact on the air quality of cities and countries around the world, including: Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Brazil, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Los Angeles, among numerous others.
  • Desertification and sandstorms play a big role in poor air quality in the Middle East and west China.
  • Huge populations around the world still lack access to real-time air pollution data, especially within Africa and the Middle East. Increasing numbers of global citizens and NGOs are deploying their own low-cost air quality sensors to fill in data gaps where they exist. Owing to these efforts, continuous public air quality data is now available for the first time for Angola, the Bahamas, Cambodia, DR Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Latvia, Nigeria and Syria.

2019 air quality data shows clear indications that climate change can directly increase the risk of exposure to air pollution, through increased frequency and intensity of forest fires and sandstorms. Similarly, in many regions the cause of ambient PM2.5 pollution and climate changing greenhouse gases are linked, namely the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal. Urgent action is needed to tackle these emission sources, to protect public health and ecosystems.

“While air quality monitoring is increasing, the lack of air quality data in large parts of the world poses a serious problem, as what is not measured cannot be managed. Areas that lack air quality information are often estimated to have some of the world’s most severe air pollution, putting huge populations at risk. Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people, currently has less than 100 monitoring stations that make PM2.5 data available to the public in real-time. More real-time air quality data leads citizens and governments to make better decisions that will improve the lives of millions for decades to come,” added Mr. Hammes.

What is IQAir AirVisual

IQAir AirVisual is a global air quality information platform operated by the IQAir Group. By aggregating and validating air quality data from governments, private individuals and nongovernmental organizations, IQAir AirVisual aims to provide global and hyper-local air quality information that allows individuals, organizations and governments to take steps that improve air quality in communities, cities and countries all over the world.

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