Approximately 7 million people died of air pollution around the world in 2012, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated in its new study. The finding, more than doubling the previous estimates mean that one out of every 8 deaths occurred due to either outdoor or indoor air pollution.

With these updated figures, air pollution has become the single biggest environmental health risk across the world.

The whopping jump in estimates (the last estimates were for 2008) are based partly upon better understanding of how air pollution causes cardiovascular diseases and cancer and partly reflective of better monitoring mechanisms in place. The increase in pollution is not the key cause for increase in numbers. The numbers of outdoor air pollution linked deaths have jumped from previous estimate of 1.3 million (in 2008) partly due to inclusion of rural population data.

Outdoor air pollution caused 3.7 out of the 7 million deaths, the study from WHO noted. The authors of the WHO report said, “About 88% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income (LMI) countries, which represent 82% of the world population.”

Approximately 80% of the deaths caused by outdoor air pollution were caused by strokes and heart disease, about 11% fatalities came from lung diseases and another 6% due to cancer.

It further added, “The Western Pacific and South East Asian regions bear most of the burden with 1.67 million and 936,000 deaths, respectively. About 236,000 deaths occur in the Eastern Mediterranean region, 200,000 in Europe, 176,000 in Africa, and 58,000 in the Americas. The remaining deaths occur in high-income countries of Europe (280,000), Americas (94,000), Western Pacific (67,000), and Eastern Mediterranean (14,000).”

In comparison to outdoor pollution, indoor pollution caused 4.3 million deaths with a large majority of the fatalities being in poor and developing countries. Strokes led to 34% of the deaths, 26% were due to heart diseases and another 12% was due to respiratory diseases in children.

The large numbers of death in Asia are also a natural corollary to high population in countries such as India and China and the study did not focus on linkages between levels of pollution and the incidence of air pollution-related deaths.

Several studies have pointed out earlier that women and children in poor households of India are especially susceptible to diseases related to indoor air pollution. This was reflected as a global trend in the WHO study too which said that 54% of the deaths from indoor air pollution were of children and women.

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