Clean Air for Blue Skies observance addresses air pollution threats

9 Sep 2020
Clean Air for Blue Skies observance addresses air pollution threats

The Region of the Americas is endangered by the risks of air pollution. More than 320,000 premature deaths are attributable to poor air quality, and at least 250 million people live in cities that fail to meet the WHO air quality guidelines for particulate matter.

To help raise awareness of this threat and mobilize action against air pollution, a new initiative, The International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, has been designated every 7 September. This first celebration in 2020 sets a precedent for promoting clean air, with the theme for the Day being #CleanAirForAll. 

The commemoration of the International Day of Clean Air for blue Skies brings an opportunity to raise awareness and mobilize global action to address air pollution and its public health implications. Cities, regional and national governments, international agencies, civil society and private sector organizations have been invited to celebrate the day. 

Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to health, being responsible for 7 million premature deaths each year globally. Air pollutants also contribute directly to the climate crisis, endangering the health and livelihoods of current and future generations. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our societies and economies to shocks, highlighting the urgency of improving our relationship with nature.

1 out of 10 people in the Americas still burn crop waste, charcoal, wood, or kerosene for cooking & heating in their homes. Burning these fuels produces indoor air pollution, a major health risk for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and an added vulnerability for COVID-19. 

Home should be the safest place, and household air pollution can be eliminated. A PAHO elimination initiative aims to reduce the use of biomass cooking to less than 5% of population in each country of the Americas by 2030. 

The elimination of polluting fuels for cooking is also a target of the Sustainable Development Goal SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, which calls for affordable and clean energy for all. Given the burden of disease of household air pollution, the achievement of this goal is important to improve public health in the Americas.

During COVID-19 in some places, pollution levels dropped to such an extent that people in some areas were able to breathe cleaner air, some for the first time in their lives.. However, at the same time, lockdowns in response to the pandemic might have worsened indoor air pollution by increasing the time people spend in their homes. 

A transition to cleaner energies for transportation and industry systems; the improvement of waste management systems and the reduction of agricultural burning is required to achieve clean air and reduce the high burden of disease attributable to air pollution. COVID-19 is a reminder that we need to build a world where people can breathe clean air, see blue skies, and clear water 

The WHO manifesto for a healthy and green recovery from COVID-19 proposes that a better world is possible with commitment from societies and decision makers, listing 6 specific action points. PAHO, in the commemoration of the First International Day of Clean Air for blue Skies, joined the voice for a healthier future. 

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