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UN expert calls air pollution ‘the silent killer’

  • Published at 11:02 pm March 4th, 2019
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Photo: Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Nearly seven million people die due to air pollution every year, accordin to UN Special Rapporteur David Boyd

More than six billion people, one-third of whom are children, face the high risk of health problems, and even death, due to air pollution, a UN expert has warned.

David Boyd, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said air pollution, both outside and inside homes, is a silent, sometimes invisible, prolific killer that is responsible for the premature death of seven million people every year, including 600,000 children.

“Yet, this pandemic receives inadequate attention as these deaths are not as dramatic as those caused by other disasters or epidemics,” the special rapporteur told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday. “Every hour, 800 people are dying, many after years of suffering, from cancer, respiratory illnesses or heart disease directly caused by breathing polluted air.”

Boyd said failing to ensure clean air constituted a violation of their fundamental right to a healthy environment, a right that is legally recognized by 155 member states and should be globally recognized.

“People cannot avoid inhaling whatever contaminants are present in the air inside their homes or in their communities,” Boyd said. “Air pollutants are everywhere, largely caused by burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, and heating, as well as from industrial activities, poor waste management and agricultural practices.”


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Women and children, who in many less wealthy countries spend a lot of time at home, are disproportionally affected by indoor air pollution caused by cooking, heating or lighting with solid fuels and kerosene.

Emphasizing on the fact that air pollution is a preventable problem, the special rapporteur called on UN member states to abide by their legal obligations to ensure clean air, which is essential for fulfilling the rights to life, health, water and sanitation, adequate housing, and a healthy environment.

He identified seven key steps that each state must take to ensure clean air and fulfil the right to a healthy environment: monitor air quality and impacts on human health; assess sources of air pollution; make information publicly available, including public health advisories; establish air quality legislation, regulations, standards and policies; develop air quality action plans at the local, national and, if necessary, regional levels; implement the air quality action plan and enforce the standards; and evaluate progress and, if necessary, strengthen the plan to ensure that the standards are met.

“There are many examples of good practices, such as programs in India and Indonesia that have helped millions of poor families switch to cleaner cooking technologies, and states that are successfully eliminating the use of coal-fired power plants,” Boyd said. “Many actions to ensure cleaner air can be designed to simultaneously reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, resulting in a double dividend.”

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