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Peña: The latest WHO air pollution report

THE World Health Organization (WHO) regularly comes out with global air pollution reports. The latest shows that air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world. Data collected by WHO reveals that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Pollution may come from inside the house mostly from cooking and heating or outside where the air is contaminated with vehicle emissions and smoke from burning fossil fuel.

WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.

Sadly, the poor suffer the most. More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas. The highest ambient air pollution levels are in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and in South-East Asia, with annual mean levels often exceeding more than 5 times WHO limits, followed by low and middle-income cities in Africa and the Western Pacific.

The latest WHO report gathered data from 2,977 cities in 103 countries. Eight (8) cities in the Philippines were on the list with Baguio the most polluted among them. For PM10, Baguio City ranked 262nd globally and for PM2.5 it placed 308th. Other cities in the list are Cebu, Dagupan, Davao, Manila, San Carlos, Urdaneta and Zamboanga. PM10 is particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter, PM2.5 is particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. A human hair is about 100 micrometres, so roughly 40 fine particles of PM2.5 could be placed on its width.

The WHO recommended the following actions:

* for industry: clean technologies that reduce industrial smokestack emissions; improved management of urban and agricultural waste, including capture of methane gas emitted from waste sites as an alternative to incineration (for use as biogas);

* for energy: ensuring access to affordable clean household energy solutions for cooking, heating and lighting;

* for transport: shifting to clean modes of power generation; prioritizing rapid urban transit, walking and cycling networks in cities as well as rail interurban freight and passenger travel; shifting to cleaner heavy-duty diesel vehicles and low-emissions vehicles and fuels, including fuels with reduced sulfur content;

* for urban planning: improving the energy efficiency of buildings and making cities more green and compact, and thus energy efficient;

* for power generation: increased use of low-emissions fuels and renewable combustion-free power sources (like solar, wind or hydropower); co-generation of heat and power; and distributed energy generation (e.g. mini-grids and rooftop solar power generation);

* for municipal and agricultural waste management: strategies for waste reduction, waste separation, recycling and reuse or waste reprocessing; as well as improved methods of biological waste management such as anaerobic waste digestion to produce biogas, are feasible, low cost alternatives to the open incineration of solid waste. Where incineration is unavoidable, then combustion technologies with strict emission controls are critical.


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