Beachgoers bath at the Mediterranean Sea during a sandstorm in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel came 12th from the bottom in air pollution in urban areas around the world, according to a World Health Organization report published on Sunday.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said on Sunday that it is studying the document.
Israel has 74 parts per million of small particulate matter in the air, according to the WHO, as compared to 334 in Afghanistan, 320 in Iran, 200 in Indian, 179 in Senegal, 174 in Mongolia, 160 in Bangladesh, 140 in Egypt, 131 in Mauritius, 128 in Jordan and 120 in China. The ministry added that it would issue an official comment later.
The Health Ministry, whose public officials said they did not receive the report, commented that “certain places have higher pollution levels than others, and particles include sand from sandstorms as well as pollution caused by transport and industry. This is not our job. We check specific incidents of air pollution, but the matter is the overall responsibility of the Environmental Protection Ministry.”
The WHO report said that more than 80 percent of people living in urban areas around the world that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits. While all regions are affected, populations in poor cities are the most affected.
According to the latest urban air quality database, 98% of cities in poor and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. However, in rich countries, that proportion decreases to 56%.
In the past two years, the database now covering 3,000 cities in 103 countries has nearly doubled its coverage, with more cities measuring air pollution levels and recognizing the associated health impacts. As urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases, the WHO said.
As air pollution is a major cause of disease, “It is good news that more cities are stepping up to monitor air quality, so when they take actions to improve it they have a benchmark,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO assistant director-general for family, women and children’s health. “When dirty air blankets our cities the most vulnerable urban populations, the youngest, oldest and poorest are the most impacted.”
The worst pollution was in poor and middle-income countries in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia Regions, with annual mean levels often exceeding five to 10 times the WHO limits, followed by poor cities in the Western Pacific Region. Although Israel is located in the eastern Mediterranean, it is a member of the WHO’s European Region.
In the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia Regions and in poor countries in the Western Pacific Region, levels of urban air pollution has increased by more than 5% in more than two-thirds of the cities.
More than half of the monitored cities in rich countries and more than one-third in poor and middle-income countries reduced their air pollution levels by more than 5% over five years. Reducing industrial smokestack emissions, increasing use of renewable power sources, such as solar and wind, and prioritizing rapid transit, walking and cycling networks in cities are among the options of available and affordable strategies, the WHO said.
The WHO’s annual World Health Assembly, to be held May 23-28 in Geneva, will discuss a road map for an enhanced global response to the adverse health effects of air pollution.