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Finnish and Icelandic people breathe healthy air 

Finland and Iceland are among the only seven countries and territories that has healthy air quality new report on world air quality reveals.

WHO data show that almost all of the global population (99%) breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits and contains high levels of pollutants, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures. The 6th Annual World Air Quality Report reveals troubling details of the world’s most polluted countries, territories, and regions in 2023. Only seven countries met the WHO annual PM2.5 guideline (annual average of 5 µg/m3 or less): Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius, and New Zealand. Globally, the air is cleaner than before, but in many places the air quality has deteriorated in recent years.

A view of nature on Iceland
Air quality in Iceland is among the seven best in the world. Photo: Unsplash/Ricky Kharawala

WHO recommends that people’s breathing air should not contain more than 5 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter. In the worst polluted countries, there were more than 10 times more fine particles than recommended. The worst breathing air was in the countries of South and Central Asia: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The air is primarily polluted by the area’s road traffic, industry and coal burning. In addition, emissions are worsened by the fact that many people burn wood and dung for cooking and heating.

WHO says almost 80% of deaths related to PM₂.could be avoided in the world if the current air pollution levels were reduced to those proposed in the latest guideline, according to a rapid scenario analysis performed by WHO.

A view of an archipelago landscape from above
Air pollutants cause between 1,600 and 2,000 premature deaths in Finland every year, according to the Finnish Ministry of Environment. Photo: Unsplash/Hendrik Morkel

Every year, exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million premature deaths and result in the loss of millions more healthy years of life. In children, this could include reduced lung growth and function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma. In adults, ischaemic heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of premature death attributable to outdoor air pollution, and evidence is also emerging of other effects such as diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions. This puts the burden of disease attributable to air pollution on a par with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diet and tobacco smoking.

Clean air has a significant positive impact on several Sustainable development goals, directly contributing to SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), and SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), and SDG target 11.6.2, which aims to reduce the environmental impact of cities by improving air quality.

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