More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with seven million fatalities recorded around the world every year.
That is according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), which reveals that Asia and Africa are the regions worst affected, followed by poorer countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It was also found that approximately three billion people do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes – the main source of household air pollution.
“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden,” WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.
“It is unacceptable that over three billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes.”
The data shows that 98% of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines, but that this drops to 56% among high-income nations.
Overall, it was found that nine in ten people are exposed to air containing high levels of pollutants, causing diseases including strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory infections.
Outdoor air pollution was responsible for around 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million.
Despite the dangerously high levels of ambient air pollution recorded in most parts of the world, there has been some progress.
In just two years India has supplied 37 million women living in poverty with LPG connections to help them switch to clean household energy use, while Mexico City has committed to soot-free buses and a ban on private diesel cars by 2025.
“Political leaders at all levels of government, including city mayors, are now starting to pay attention and take action,” Ghebreyesus continued.
“The good news is that we are seeing more and more governments increasing commitments to monitor and reduce air pollution as well as more global action from the health sector and other sectors like transport, housing and energy.”