Fri 30 Sep 2016
Filed under: Environment,Health
Myanmar’s air is not only harmful to breathe, it’s also among the worst in the world, according to new information from the World Health Organization.
The WHO’s most detailed data set ever on outdoor air quality found that few if any locations in this country have completely safe air to breathe.
Each nation’s annual concentration of pollution particles over a certain size was measured – with a concentration of 10 or below considered harmless for humans, while 70 or above was seen as extremely unsafe. Myanmar’s urban and rural areas combined had a median of 51, and an estimated range of 32 to 80.
These national numbers are very similar to China and India – which are often cited for their dangerous levels of air pollution.
WHO data showed that upwards of 22,000 deaths per year in Myanmar can be attributed to ambient air pollution. It had the third-highest per capita rate in the WHO Southeast Asia region, with India as number one.
The report was unequivocal: “Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to health,” it said.
A spokesperson for the WHO Myanmar office said the main sources of outdoor air pollution in Myanmar include “inefficient modes of transport, inefficient combustion of household fuels for cooking, lighting and heating, coal-fired power plants, industrial agriculture and waste burning.”
She said a very high proportion of households still rely on the use of solid fuel – such as wood, crop waste, charcoal, coal and dung – for cooking purposes: up to 95 percent in rural areas and 81pc in urban areas.
“[This] creates high emissions of particulate matter indoors and contributes to high levels of pollutants in ambient air.”
The new WHO data set showed that a whopping 92pc of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed the limit suggested for health reasons.
And the results of breathing in such pollutants have been dire. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution – mainly from cardiovascular diseases, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
Almost all of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly two out of three in the Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions.
“Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” said WHO assistant director general Dr Flavia Bustreo.
“For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last,” she said.
The WHO director of the department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health, Dr Maria Neira, said that “fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough”.
“Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions,” she said.