Fresh data from the World Health Organization showed that every corner of the globe is dealing with air pollution, although the problem is much worse in poorer countries.

The database, for the first time, has included ground measurements of nitrogen dioxide.
The database, for the first time, has included ground measurements of nitrogen dioxide. (AP)

The UN health agency has said nearly everybody in the world breathes air that doesn’t meet its standards for air quality.

The World Health Organization, about six months after tightening its guidelines on air quality, issued an update to its database on Monday on air quality that draws on information from a growing number of cities, towns, and villages across the globe - now totaling over 6,000 municipalities.

The WHO called for more action to reduce fossil-fuel use, which generates pollutants that cause respiratory and blood-flow problems and lead to millions of preventable deaths each year.

“After surviving a pandemic, it is unacceptable to still have 7 million preventable deaths and countless preventable lost years of good health due to air pollution,” said Dr. Maria Neira, head of WHO’s department of environment, climate change and health.

“Yet too many investments are still being sunk into a polluted environment rather than in clean, healthy air.”

WHO said 99 percent of the global population breathes air that exceeds its air-quality limits and is often rife with particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs, enter the veins and arteries, and cause disease. 

READ MORE: 'No country' met WHO air quality standards last year

Major changes needed to curb air pollution

Air quality is poorest in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia regions, followed by Africa, it said.

The database, which has traditionally considered two types of particulate matter known as PM2.5 and PM10, for the first time has included ground measurements of nitrogen dioxide. The last version of the database was issued in 2018.

Nitrogen dioxide originates mainly from human-generated burning of fuel, such as through automobile traffic, and is most common in urban areas. 

Exposure can bring respiratory diseases like asthma and symptoms like coughing, wheezing and difficulty in breathing, and more hospital and emergency-room admissions, WHO said.

The report found problems related to particulate pollution were far worse in poorer countries, but that most cities had trouble with nitrogen dioxide.

While the air in 17 percent of cities in high-income countries fell below WHO's air quality guidelines for PM2.5 or PM10, less than one percent of cities in low and middle-income countries complied with the recommended thresholds, the report said.

Out of the around 4,000 cities across 74 countries that collected NO2 data, measurements meanwhile showed only 23 percent of people breathed annual average concentrations of the gas that met levels in WHO's recently updated guidelines.

READ MORE: WHO blames air pollution for 7 million premature deaths a year

Source: TRTWorld and agencies