Dimensions of Pollution


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Air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk, causing roughly 7 million deaths annually. Short-lived pollutants – which include black carbon, methane, ozone, and airborne particles produced by industrial operations and the burning of diesel, coal, kerosene or biomass – are responsible for about one third of deaths from stroke, chronic respiratory disease and lung cancer and one quarter of deaths from heart attack. These pollutants are also contributing to global warming, lowering labour productivity, and increasing food insecurity around the world.

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Each year roughly 7 million people die prematurely because of poor air quality.

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Long-lived particles of dust, including those carried over long distances by sand and dust storms, also pollute the air we breathe. Dust particles can lead to premature death by cardiovascular and respiratory disease, lung cancer, eye and skin infections and acute lower respiratory infections. Dust storms also reduce water supplies, compromise renewable energy sources, and increase desertification, drought and soil salinity.

Through the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, UN Environment helps countries reduce urban air pollution by adopting cleaner fuels and more efficient vehicle technologies and standards. Alongside the World Health Organization and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, UN Environment is part of the global Breathe Life campaign, which aims to mobilize cities and individuals to protect our health and planet from the effects of air pollution. We have also designed, built and tested a low-cost air quality monitoring unit that transmits data securely. The technology is currently being piloted in Kenya.

Get more details on pollution in our background report, Towards a pollution-free planet.