By giving a first international conference, the world health Organization (WHO) intends to place air pollution at the centre of the international political agenda, at the same rank as the global warming. And insist on a simple message : each year, 7 million premature deaths, it must now be seen as the ” greatest environmental risk to the health of humanity, and fought as such.
To broadcast the ” call to urgent action “, the un institution, brings together, from 30 October to 1 November, in Geneva, representatives of the scientific and medical community, intergovernmental organizations and civil society, in the sectors of energy or transport, as well as political decision-makers (mayors and ministers of the environment and of health).
First step : take the extent of the danger. According to the latest data compiled by the WHO, approximately 91 % of the planet’s inhabitants breathe air has too much particulate matter (PM 2.5, diameter < 2.5 µm) and are exposed to concentrations that exceed health guidelines (10 µg/m3 per year). This chronic overexposure causes almost 7 million deaths per year. This is more than the deaths cumulative aids (1.1 million), tuberculosis (1.4 million), diabetes (1.6 million) and road accidents (1.3 million).
“Move from recognition to action,”
Yet, despite these figures, relentless, ” it’s only been a few months that the air pollution is recognized as a risk factor for non-communicable diseases [NCDS] in the same way as alcohol or tobacco “, said Maria Neira, the director of the department of public health and environment at WHO, and coordinator of the conference. According to the un organization, it is now the second leading cause of death after tobacco. Thus, one-third of deaths due to major NCDS (stroke, lung cancer, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are due to the pollution of the air.
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hence the urgency to engage the second step : “to move from recognition to action “. How ? First, by placing “health at the heart of our communication and of our fight against global warming,” said Maria Neira. Tackle the pollution generated by automobile traffic or industry, it is also possible to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, she says.
unlike climate change, no convention of the united Nations which oversees the pollution of the air. The conference will come, however, not on a final declaration. “Each time, it is necessary to negotiate the texts that end up emptied of their substance,” warns Maria Neira, experienced in international negotiations. We have preferred to opt for voluntary commitments of States and cities in order to create a kind of emulation. “Not fooled by the effects of the announcement, the head of the WHO states that follow-up groups will be put in place to ensure that commitments will be kept in good order.