While many world issues are constrained by national borders, air pollution is a problem that knows no boundaries. It affects practically all countries in the world, all parts of society and has become a growing concern as a result of mass urbanization and industrialization. To date, air pollution – both ambient and household – is the biggest environmental risk to health, carrying responsibility for about one in every nine deaths annually (around 11.6% of deaths annually – more than the number of people killed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and road injuries combined.) Ambient (outdoor) air pollution alone kills around 3 million people each year, mainly from noncommunicable diseases. Aggregated with household (indoor) pollution data, this number rises to 6.5 million deaths per year. Shockingly, more than nine out of ten people around the world live in cities where air pollution exceeds safe limits (within the WHO Air quality guidelines): it is clearly a public health emergency and has been identified as a global health priority in the UN sustainable development agenda.
Interventions and policies – such as the WHO global response framework – for tackling air pollution issues exist and have been proven to be effective, but more efforts need to be made. As this is an issue that affects everyone around the world, more solutions need to be devised—and not only by governmental organizations but also by the private sector. These partnerships need to happen in order to maximize the co-benefits of health, climate, environment and social development. Moreover, tackling such a ‘wicked problem’ as air pollution will also require large behavioral shifts at the consumer’s level.
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