Around 51% of countries worldwide do not produce publicly available air quality data, consequently hampering efforts to tackle one of the biggest public health threats, a new study showed Thursday.
The report entitled Open Air Quality Data: The Global State of Play by Washington-based OpenAQ revealed that countries where 1.4 billion people live do not produce publicly available air quality data while countries where 4.2 billion live do not transparently share air quality data.
The report examined 212 countries for transparency and production of air quality data and found that only 103 countries are producing data for any major pollutants.
Over half of the world’s population has no access to official government data on air quality even though 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO defines air pollution as the greatest environmental risk to health.
The research was conducted with the support of scientists at NASA, who use the OpenAQ system combining NASA's satellite data for air pollution.
Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Angola are the 13 most populous countries equating to a total population of 1 billion people in which there appears to be no evidence of a public national-level government program for long-term air quality monitoring.
At least 30 governments generate real-time data but do not yet share them in a fully open manner, the report said.
Making these existing data more fully open would affect 4.4 billion people, in countries such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, the Philippines, Japan, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Thailand, South Africa and Vietnam, according to the research.
"This information vacuum is preventing people from demanding action from their governments to tackle the biggest environmental risk to health, and changing their own behavior," the report said.
Outdoor air pollution leads to an estimated 4.2 million deaths every year, more than Ebola, HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined, which totals 2.7 million deaths, OpenAQ said.
The report calls on governments to ensure overseas development funds are linked to open data and air pollution.
"Basic access to air quality data is the first step to improve the air we breathe. By providing access to fully open data, governments can enable the power of civil society from scientists to policy analysts to activists to tackle the problem together," Christa Hasenkopf, an atmospheric scientist and founder of OpenAQ, was quoted as saying.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya