Despite its increasing visibility as a global crisis, air quality standards are not currently monitored or regulated by many countries around the world. In particular, developing nations tend to shy away from air quality standards as the short-term benefits of industrial strength and increased national wealth outweigh the long-term benefits to limiting air pollution.
Clean air is a basic requirement for the healthy living of all humans and animals. Unfortunately, many of the fuel sources and another chemicals that humans use to make life simpler and more comfortable are creating a global threat. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) study on diseases caused by air pollution, the burning of solid fuels both outdoors and indoors contribute to more than two million premature deaths each year. More than half of these occur in developing countries, the so-called "Third World."
A 2006 call-to-action by the WHO notes that studies show a reduction of PM10 levels could reduce deaths in polluted cities by up to 15% annually. PM10 is a pollutant mainly released through the burning of fossil and other types of fuels. The WHO's proposed air quality guidelines are actually much more stringent than the national standards in many countries. Meeting the organization's recommended levels of PM10 and other pollutants could require a country to reduce its current levels by up to three times — a challenge to say the least.
The national standards that do currently exist vary widely. Asia and the Middle East in particular suffer from a lack of appropriate air quality standards. China utilizes mass quantities of coal, a major source of PM10, as does India. Both of these countries have large populations simultaneously prospering and suffering from the use of fuels that compromise clean air. Worse, air pollution affects neighboring countries as air, obviously, cannot be restricted by borders. Some countries like Thailand and Malaysia are still following air quality standards from the 1980s, and as of 2006 there were no air quality standards set at all in Afghanistan, Bhutan, Lao or Pakistan.
Many critics have pointed out that industrial giants and world leaders like the U.S. and Great Britain have the technology and wealth to weather necessary and dramatic changes in air quality standards, but do not do nearly as much as they could to promote clean air efforts.