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WHO: 99% of global population breathes polluted air

By Javan Flowers

Nearly everybody in the world breathes air that "does not meet [the WHO’s] standards for air quality,” the World Health Organization (WHO) announced via a release this week.

The release issued detailed an update to the WHO's database on air quality that draws on information from more than 6,000 municipalities, a list that includes a growing number of cities, towns, and villages across the globe.

The UN health agency stated that "99% of the global population breathes air that exceeds its air-quality limits and is often rife with particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs, enter the veins and arteries, and cause disease." It added that the worst cases are found in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia regions, followed by Africa.

It continued by calling for more action to reduce fossil-fuel use, which generates pollutants that cause respiratory and blood-flow problems and lead to millions of preventable deaths each year.

At a press conference following the issued statement, Dr. Maria Neira, WHO’s director of Environment, Climate Change, and Health, noted, "After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to have still 7 million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution. That's what we're saying when we look at the mountain of air pollution data, evidence, and solutions available. Yet too many investments are still being sunk into a polluted environment rather than clean, healthy air."

For the first time, the database, which has traditionally considered two types of particulate matter known as PM2.5 and PM10, has included ground measurements of nitrogen dioxide.

"Particulate matter, especially PM2.5, can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke), and respiratory impacts," WHO said. "There is emerging evidence that particulate matter impacts other organs and causes other diseases."

Furthermore, the health agency noted that "Nitrogen dioxide originates mainly from the burning of fuel, such as through automobile traffic, and is most common in urban areas." Adding that "Prolonged exposure can bring respiratory disease like asthma and symptoms like coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing."

The report's sobering findings highlight the dire need for an accelerated push toward renewable energy, and Belize Electricity Ltd.'s introduction of two charging stations, with other stations planning to be built, is a positive step toward a green and pollution-free Belize.

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