WHO reports deteriorating air quality in world's cities

PHOTO: WHO reports deteriorating air quality in world's cities

JAKARTA - The air quality in most cities worldwide fails to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for safe levels, putting people at the additional risk of respiratory disease and other health problems, a report says.

The WHO's Urban Air Quality database reveals that more cities worldwide are monitoring outdoor air quality, reflecting a growing recognition of air pollution's health risks.

Only 12 per cent of the people living in cities reporting on air quality reside in cities compliant with WHO Air Quality Guideline levels. About half of the urban population being monitored is exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels the WHO recommends - putting those people at additional risk of serious, long-term health problems.

The data has prompted the WHO to call for greater awareness of the health risks caused by air pollution, the implementation of effective air pollution mitigation policies and close monitoring of the situation in cities worldwide.

"Too many urban centers today are so enveloped in dirty air that their skylines are invisible," WHO assistant director general for family, children and women's health Flavia Bustreo said in a release made available to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

"Not surprisingly, this air is dangerous to breathe. So a growing number of cities and communities worldwide are striving to better meet the needs of their residents - in particular children and the elderly," she went on.

The latest WHO database covers 1600 cities across 91 countries - 500 more cities than the previous database in 2011.

Many factors contribute to increased pollution, including reliance on fossil fuels such as coal- fired power plants, dependence on private transport motor vehicles, the inefficient use of energy in buildings and the use of biomass for cooking and heating.

Some cities, however, are reported to have made notable improvements, demonstrating that air quality can be improved by implementing policy measures such as banning the use of coal for "space heating" in buildings, using renewable or "clean" fuels for electricity production, and improving efficiency of motor vehicle engines.