UN agency the World Health Organisation agrees its ‘first ever’ resolution to address the health impacts of air pollution
The World Health Organisation adopted a “landmarkâ€? resolution to address the health impacts of air pollution at the 68th annual meeting of its decision-making body in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday (May 26).
It marks the first time that the UN agency’s supreme decision body, the World Health Assembly, has debated the topic of air pollution, which it described as “the world’s single biggest environmental health riskâ€?.
With delegates from all 194 WHO member countries in attendance at the 68th annual meeting, the resolution adopted highlights the “key roleâ€? of national health authorities in raising awareness of the issue and cut health costs.
It highlights the estimated 4.3 million deaths each year caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution, while stressing the need for strong cooperation between different sectors and the integration of health concerns into all national, regional and local air pollution-related policies.
And, according to WHO: “It urges member states to develop air quality monitoring systems and health registries to improve surveillance for all illnesses related to air pollution; promote clean cooking, heating and lighting technologies and fuels; and strengthen international transfer of expertise, technologies and scientific data in the field of air pollution.â€?
The document also asks the WHO Secretariat to “strengthen its technical capacities to support member states in taking action on air pollutionâ€?. This includes work to implement WHO’s indoor and outdoor air quality guidelines, conduct cost-benefit assessment of mitigation measures and to advance research into health effects of air pollution.
Closing the Assembly meeting yesterday, WHO director general, Dr Margaret Chan, noted that it had passed several “landmark resolutions and decisionsâ€?, and it was confirmed that at next year’s meeting – the 69th – WHO would propose a road map for an “enhanced global responseâ€? to air pollution by the health sector.
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), which represents 65 European member organisations, welcomed the WHO resolution as a “major milestone for improving the health of people suffering from diseases related to poor air qualityâ€? – but suggested the resolution could have gone further.
HEAL executive director, Génon K. Jensen, said: “While HEAL regrets that health ministers did not call for binding measures to tackle air pollution, today’s resolution nevertheless is the kick-off for greater engagement and resources for health ministers and health authorities to tackle air pollution, for example by clearly including cleaner air strategies in national disease prevention programmes, and addressing the two largest culprits of air pollution – coal-fired power stations and diesel from transport.â€?
Meanwhile, the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) called for an update to the WHO Air Quality Guidelines: “We expect that the WHO support to member states will include new updates of its Air Quality Guidelines and their promotion. Improved monitoring of population exposure to air pollutants in the member states will increase their ability to plan and evaluate their own actions to reduce pollution.â€?