This morning I returned to Geneva from my trip to Lebanon and Afghanistan. Tomorrow we will hold a dedicated press conference with Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the Regional Director of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, to talk about the health crises in Lebanon and Afghanistan, and the urgent needs of those two countries.
Today, our focus is on air pollution.
There is nothing more essential for life than air.
And yet because of air pollution, the simple act of breathing contributes to 7 million deaths a year.
Almost everyone around the world is exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution.
Inhaling dirty air increases the risk of respiratory diseases like pneumonia, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and increases the risk of severe COVID-19.
It’s also a major cause of other noncommunicable diseases like ischaemic heart disease, stroke, and cancers.
Air pollution is a health threat in all countries, but especially for vulnerable groups in low- and middle-income countries with poor air quality due to urbanization and rapid economic development, and air pollution in the home caused by cooking, heating and lighting.
Today, we’re proud to launch the updated WHO Global Air Quality Guidelines, which provide clear evidence of the damage air pollution inflicts on human health.
Since the last update in 2005, a substantial new body of evidence has accumulated, further demonstrating the degree to which air pollution affects all parts of the body, from the brain to a growing baby in a mother’s womb, at even lower concentrations than previously observed.
That’s why these new guidelines include lower recommended levels for pollutants including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone.
These new guidelines will have major implications for public health.
They provide a practical tool for improving air quality around the world, and a robust evidence-base for developing national and local air quality standards.
They can also help to inform and strengthen policies in sectors including energy, waste-management, agriculture and transport.
For countries with high levels of air pollution, the guidelines provide interim targets that can be used as milestones on the path to achieving the recommended air quality levels.
WHO is dedicated to supporting countries in their fight against air pollution, to building the capacity and knowledge of health workers to advocate for clean air, and to strengthening the ability of the health sector to work with other sectors to tackle the sources of air pollution.
This is not a job for the health sector alone. It requires an all-of-government and all-of-society approach to improve the governance of air quality, the monitoring of air pollution risks, and the engagement of all economic sectors in reducing emissions.
I urge all countries to put these guidelines to use, to save lives, support healthy communities, and help address the climate crisis.
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