Worldwide it is estimated that 1.3 million people — more than half of them in developing countries — die every year from urban outdoor air pollution. Urban outdoor air pollution is a major environmental health problem affecting people in both developed and developing countries. Populations living in cities with high levels of outdoor air pollution will have more heart disease, respiratory problems and lung cancers than those populations living in urban areas with cleaner air.
Health effects are seen from both short and long term exposure to urban outdoor air pollution. For example, asthmatics are at an increased risk of an asthma attack on a single day with higher ground-level ozone concentrations. Whereas for example, individuals exposed chronically (e.g. years) to high levels of particulate matter are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
Improving the air we breathe can greatly reduce the number of people suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Implementing policies and regulations aimed at controlling air pollutant emissions can improve air quality and in turn reduce the disease burden and improve health. At the same time increasing public awareness about relatively simple interventions, such as an improvements in kitchen stoves and the advantages of taking public transport rather than cars can lead to public action to reduce sources of air pollution in both urban indoor and outdoor environments , producing significant health gains.
Cities can identify their main sources of outdoor air pollution, and implement policies known to improve air quality, such as: promotion of public transport, walking, and cycling (rather than transport relying on private motor vehicles); promotion of power plants that use clean and renewable fuels (e.g. not coal), and improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings and manufacturing. Essential accompanying steps include increasing awareness about the high disease burden from urban outdoor air pollution and its main sources, as well as highlighting the importance of taking action now to implement country-specific interventions. In addition, the use of effective monitoring to evaluate and communicate the impact of interventions is also an important tool in raising awareness. It can help drive policy action that brings benefits for health, climate and the environment.