Three-quarters of countries experienced excessive micro-particle pollution in 2020, responsible for many premature deaths, despite a significant drop in polluting activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report published on Tuesday.
In total, 84% of countries have experienced a drop in the levels of air pollution with fine particles PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometers) according to this report, compiled by the research arm of the Swiss company IQAir and Greenpeace using data from terrestrial monitoring stations, two-thirds operated by public institutions.
But out of 106 countries with available data, only 24 met World Health Organization (WHO) standards for these particles whose diameter is one-thirtieth of a human hair. This smallness allows them to enter the bloodstream via the lungs, resulting in asthma, lung cancer or heart disease.
Restrictions that have prevented tens of thousands of deaths
The majority of the seven million premature deaths worldwide attributed by the WHO to air pollution are caused
s by PM2.5, resulting from sandstorms, forest fires, agriculture, industry and the combustion of fossil fuels.
“Many regions of the world have experienced unprecedented but temporary improvements in their air quality in 2020, the restrictions due to Covid having led to a sharp drop in the consumption of fossil fuels”, underlined Lauri Myllyvirta of the Center Energy and Air Research Institute (CREA), which also collaborated on the study.
For this analyst, quoted in a press release, this drop allowed “to avoid tens of thousands of deaths” in the world.
This improvement in air quality in 2020 has already been observed in numerous regional studies, as well as a rise in pollution with the lifting or easing of restrictions.
New Delhi, the most polluted capital
As in previous years, South and East Asia were the regions most affected by PM2.5 in 2020: Bangladesh, India and Pakistan concentrate 42 of the 50 most polluted cities in the world, 49 out of 50 if we add China, where 86% of the cities measured have nevertheless recorded an overall improvement.
Among the capitals, New Delhi was the most polluted (as in 2019), with more than eight times the maximum dose recommended by the WHO. Dhaka, Ulan Bator, Kabul and Doha follow. Islamabad is 11th, Beijing 15th. At the other end of the picture, Stockholm, Helsinki and Wellington are the least affected capitals.
On the subject:
Rare exception to the global decline, the United States recorded an average increase of 6.7% in PM2.5 pollution, attributed to mega-fires which ravaged the northwest of the country in particular. To the point that 38% of the American cities studied did not meet WHO standards in 2020, against 21% in 2019.