Deaths and illnesses from pollution in Asia increasing

30 December 2002

Article from Abstract published by Earth Crash Earth Spirit.

Pollution in Asia is steadily worsening and is directly responsible for the death of thousands in Beijing, Jakarta, Seoul, Bangkok and Manila, according to the World Bank and the Stockholm Development Institute (SDI). SDI says that sulphur dioxide, ammonia and nitrogen oxides have been rising steadily over the past few decades and ground level ozone concentration has increased. Air pollution in the continent has now surpassed the combined emissions in Europe and North America.

According to the Bank's 2000 Annual Review, in Manila alone more than 4,000 Filipinos die each year because of air pollution. The mortality figure is the third highest for a city in the east Asian region after Beijing and Jakarta. Bangkok and Seoul were ranked 4th and 5th.

Beside the deaths, 90,000 Filipinos in Manila also suffer from severe chronic bronchitis, costing the government 7 percent of its gross domestic product in terms of health costs, the Bank said, citing statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) which did pollution and health studies in 126 countries last year. However, the air pollution death figures in other parts of the world are even higher, says the Bank, noting that yearly, over 40,000 die in India, 6,400 in Mexico City, over 5,000 deaths in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

As rapid urbanization associated with growth in industry and transportation systems spread in Asia, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions have increased dramatically. The pollutants come from fossil fuel combustion used by energy, industry and transportation sectors all over the Asia-Pacific region. It is aggravated by the use of low quality fuel, inefficient methods of energy production and use, poor condition of vehicles and traffic congestion, says SEI.

The damage to human health caused not only by air emissions but also solid waste and effluent, is the highest among all the costs of urban environmental degradation. Health costs in major Asian cities now reach 15 to 18 percent of urban income, the Bank said. As cities in developing countries are indeed becoming unhealthy places to live in, people have to contend not only with dangerous air fumes but also solid waste and effluent pollution. These are direct factors behind water-related diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and typhoid.

The congestion of cities will continue to be a pall over the worldwide public health scenario as rapid urbanization is projected by the Bank to continue at even faster pace in this century. Citing the Philippines as the nation with the highest population growth rate in Southeast Asia, the Bank said Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, 38 Chinese cities and 23 cities in India will have compounded urban problems with their growing population. The urban population in these cities is expected to reach 2.5 billion by 2025, three times more than in 1990, the Bank added.

As a result, costs of air and water pollution in fast-urbanizing developing countries will increase its toll on government coffers. With tens of thousands of deaths and millions of cases of moderate to severe illnesses, billions of dollars will be lost in productivity and other damages per year per city, the Bank warned. The costs of environmental degradation will also increase due to the expenses of supplying clean water, decongesting transport, cleaning solid waste and providing a clean working atmosphere for urban workers, it predicted.

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