New Delhi: While Delhi remains the most polluted city in the world, an estimated 7 million people across the globe are dying each year from exposure to ambient and household air pollution, World Health Organization (WHO) said in a report released on Tuesday.

WHO compiled air quality data for mega-cities with a population of 14 million or more and found that Greater Cairo in Egypt is the second most polluted city after Delhi followed by Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. While Mumbai stood fourth in pollution, Beijing came out to be the fifth most polluted city in the world, the WHO report said.

Ambient air pollution alone caused around 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period, the report stated.

WHO recognizes that air pollution is a critical risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.

The fresh data in the WHO report also shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. The fine particles in polluted air penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.

“Many of the world’s mega-cities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than 5 times, representing a major risk to people’s health," said Dr. Maria Neira, director of Department of Public Health, Social and Environmental Determinants of Health at WHO.

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 report said. 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.

Around 3 billion people – more than 40% of the world’s population – still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution, the report said.

“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden. It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.

“If we don’t take urgent action on air pollution, we will never come close to achieving sustainable development," he said

The report said that over the past six years, ambient air pollution levels have remained high and approximately stable, with declining concentrations in some part of Europe and in the Americas. In general, ambient air pollution levels are lowest in high-income countries, particularly in Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific. In cities of high-income countries in Europe, air pollution has been shown to lower average life expectancy by anywhere between 2 and 24 months, depending on pollution levels.

Highlights of the World Health Organization (WHO) report on air pollution

Health wise

■ Estimated 7 million persons die each year due to exposure to ambient and household air pollution

■ Ambient air pollution alone caused around 4.2 million deaths in 2016

■ Household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period

■ Air pollution is a critical risk factor for Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs)

■ 24% of all adult deaths were from heart disease,

■ 25% from stroke,

■ 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

■ 29% from lung cancer.

Air we breathe

■ WHO compiled air quality data for megacities with a population of 14 million or more

■ 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

■ Delhi is the most polluted city in the world

■ Greater Cairo in Egypt stands second

■ Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh comes third

■ Mumbai ranks fourth in pollution

■ Beijing in China came is fifth most polluted city in the world

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