A new study by the World Health Organization has found 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution, with nearly 90 percent of those deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries like Cambodia.
The WHO said Southeast Asia bears one of the heaviest burdens with 799,000 deaths – 7,000 in Cambodia alone – in 2012 linked to air pollution. The body noted that Cambodia’s rate of 32 deaths per 100,000 people each year was similar to the rates in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
Sopha Chum, the executive director of the Health and Development Alliance, said that the Cambodian government was not ready to respond to air pollution.
“It’s time for the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health to start raising awareness to key political leaders to understand the risks and prepare action to reduce the risks,” he said.
Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann referred questions to Dr Prak Piseth Raingsey, director of preventive medicine at the ministry. However Raingsey did not respond to requests for comment.
The WHO study noted that major sources of pollution include inefficient modes of transportation, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants and industrial activity.
Minister of Environment Say Sam Al said his ministry had taken action to help minimise the impact of air pollution, including monitoring factory emissions and encouraging households that burn charcoal to use alternative fuel sources.
He said the ministry was also in the early stages of studying banning the importing of old cars, with officials working on defining what vehicles would fall into that category.
He said traffic congestion in Phnom Penh was also a contributory factor.
“At the moment, we are also looking at ways to ease congestion,” Sam Al said, adding that he believed those measures did make a difference in reducing air pollution and, as a result, the health risks associated.
The WHO study found that 94 percent of the 3 million annual deaths were due to non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.