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Air pollution caused 8.1 million deaths in 2021: State of Global Air Report

The 5th State of Global Air (SoGA) report has revealed that air pollution has become the second leading global risk factor for death.

The Health Effects Institute’s report reveals that air pollution was responsible for 8.1 million deaths worldwide in 2021. In addition to these fatalities, the report reminds us, there are countless others suffering from chronic diseases due to air pollution, which imposes significant burdens on healthcare systems, economies, and societies at large.

Of the total deaths, noncommunicable diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) account for nearly 90% of the disease burden from air pollution.

Of the 8.1 million deaths:

  • 58% were due to ambient PM2.5
  • 38% were from household air pollution
  • 6% were deaths caused by ozone

On the positive side, deaths caused by household air pollution has fallen 36% since the start of the century, thanks to efforts made in China and South Asia.

Produced for the first time in partnership with UNICEF, the report focusses on the impact of air pollution on children, finding that, in 2021, more than 700,000 deaths in children under five years were linked to air pollution; representing 15% of all global deaths in this group, making it the second greatest risk to life after malnutrition.

Naturally, the burden is not shared equally around the world. 169,400 of these children died in India, 114,100 in Nigeria, 68,100 in Pakistan, 31,100 in Ethiopia and 19,100 in Bangladesh’

In South Asia and East, West, Central and Southern Africa, air pollution accounts for nearly 30% of all deaths in the first month after birth.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kitty van der Heijden said: ‘Despite progress in maternal and child health, every day almost 2000 children under five years die because of health impacts linked to air pollution. Our inaction is having profound effects on the next generation, with lifelong health and well-being impacts. The global urgency is undeniable. It is imperative governments and businesses consider these estimates and locally available data and use it to inform meaningful, child-focused action to reduce air pollution and protect children’s health.’

In adults, air pollution was second only to high blood pressure as a cause of death, with smoking below trailing behind in third.

Dr. Pallavi Pant, HEI’s Head of Global Health who oversaw the SoGA report release said: ‘This new report offers a stark reminder of the significant impacts air pollution has on human health, with far too much of the burden borne by young children, older populations, and low- and middle-income countries.

‘This points sharply at an opportunity for cities and countries to consider air quality and air pollution as high-risk factors when developing health policies and other noncommunicable disease prevention and control programs.’

The report’s conclusion warns: ‘Much of the air pollution that afflicts us today comes from sources that we understand well. From long experience, we know what drives these sources of pollution, and in most cases, we understand what it would take to curb them. But there is still much to learn and critically, much to do. Increasingly, rising temperatures are worsening air pollution and its health effects, underscoring the urgent need for integrated action to simultaneously improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. ‘

The report can be downloaded here:

This State of Global Air report was produced by the State of Global Air Initiative, a collaboration between the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease project in partnership with UNICEF.

The report is based on data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD 2021) of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. This collaboration of more than 10,000 researchers worldwide produces globally comparable estimates of the impact of 88 environmental, behavioral, and dietary risk factors on health across 204 countries and global territories.


Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.


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