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Air Pollution Responsible for 8.1 Million Deaths Globally in 2021, UNICEF-Backed Report Reveals

UNITED NATIONS: A recent report backed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) highlights the severe and growing impact of air pollution on global health. The fifth edition of the State of Global Air (SoGA) report, released by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), an independent U.S.-based nonprofit research organization, underscores the alarming statistic that air pollution accounted for 8.1 million deaths worldwide in 2021.
According to the SoGA report, air pollution has become the second leading global risk factor for premature death, trailing only high blood pressure. The report emphasizes that beyond the staggering death toll, air pollution is responsible for countless chronic illnesses, placing immense pressure on healthcare systems, economies, and societies worldwide.

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Impact on Children and Vulnerable Populations
Children under the age of five are particularly vulnerable, with over 700,000 deaths in this age group attributed to air pollution in 2021. The report highlights that pollutants such as outdoor fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are among the most harmful. PM2.5, which originates from burning fossil fuels and biomass in sectors like transportation, residential heating, and wildfires, accounted for more than 90 percent of global air pollution-related deaths. This pollutant is recognized as the “most consistent and accurate predictor of poor health outcomes around the world.”
HEI President Dr. Elena Craft emphasized the dire health implications of air pollution and expressed hope that the report would catalyze positive change. “Air pollution has enormous implications for health. We know that improving air quality and global public health is practical and achievable,” she stated.


Broader Health and Environmental Impacts
The report also identifies other harmful pollutants, including household air pollution, ozone (O3), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from traffic exhaust, which collectively contribute to the global health crisis. Dr. Pallavi Pant, HEI’s Head of Global Health, noted, “This new report offers a stark reminder of the significant impacts air pollution has on human health, with far too much of the burden borne by young children, older populations, and low- and middle-income countries.”
The findings highlight a critical opportunity for policymakers. Cities and countries are urged to prioritize air quality and pollution control in health policies and noncommunicable disease prevention programs. The report underscores the necessity of addressing air pollution as a significant risk factor, particularly in regions with high pollution levels.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kitty van der Heijden pointed out the urgent need for action, stating, “Nearly 2,000 children under five die every day due to the effects of air pollution. The global urgency is undeniable. It is imperative governments and businesses consider these estimates and locally available data to inform meaningful, child-focused action to reduce air pollution and protect children’s health.”

Positive Developments and Future Outlook
Despite the grim statistics, the report does note some positive trends. Awareness about the dangers of household air pollution has increased, leading to a 53 percent decrease in the death rate of children under five since 2000, largely due to better access to clean energy for cooking.Additionally, regions with the highest levels of air pollution, particularly in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, have started addressing the issue. These areas are implementing air pollution monitoring networks, enacting stricter air quality policies, and taking other measures to mitigate pollution levels.

The SoGA report makes it clear that air pollution is a critical global health issue, necessitating urgent and coordinated action from governments, businesses, and communities. The stark data provided by the report serves as a call to action to improve air quality and protect the most vulnerable populations, especially young children. By addressing air pollution, the global community can make significant strides toward enhancing public health and achieving sustainable development goals.


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