A man sells newspapers  amid heavy smog in New Delhi on November 10, 2017. Shashi Tharoor believes India's media have come to pollute public discourse. Photo: AFP / Dominique Faget
A man sells newspapers amid heavy smog in New Delhi on November 10, 2017. Photo: AFP / Dominique Faget

South Asia is home to the world’s four most polluted countries – Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan – and the region also has 18 of the top 20 most polluted cities.

Greenpeace released the latest air pollution data today with a warning that seven million people will die around the world over the next year because of air pollution. The economic cost is also tipped to be enormous: US$225 billion in lost labor and “trillions” in medical costs.

The latest data compiled in the IQAir AirVisual 2018 World Air Quality Report and interactive World’s most polluted cities ranking, prepared in collaboration with Greenpeace Southeast Asia, reveals levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air in cities and countries in 2018.

The positive news was that air quality in Beijing has got better. Average concentrations in cities in China fell by 12% from 2017 to 2018, and Beijing was the 122nd most polluted city in the world last year. However, the number of Chinese cities with high pollution is still substantial.

Jakarta and Hanoi were the two most polluted cities in Southeast Asia, and Jakarta could soon overtake Beijing in the rankings.

In other parts of the world, 10 cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo, plus four in Turkey had PM2.5 levels that were three times greater than the World Health Organization guidelines.

Climate change impact

Air quality in cities in the US and Canada were made dramatically worse by historic wildfires between August and November. This showed that “climate change is making the effects of air pollution worse by changing atmospheric conditions and amplifying forest fires,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

“The key driver of climate change – burning fossil fuels – is also the main driver of air pollution, globally. Therefore, tackling climate change will also greatly improve our air quality,” it said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people in Africa and South America were left in the dark because they do not have adequate equipment to monitor air quality.

Frank Hammes, the head of IQAir, said: “The 2018 World Air Quality Report is based on .. data from tens of thousands of air quality monitoring stations around the world.

“Now everyone with a cellphone has free access to this data via the AirVisual platform. This has also created demand for air quality monitoring in cities or regions where no public data is available. Communities and organizations from California to Kabul are supplementing governmental monitoring efforts with their own low-cost air quality monitoring networks, and are giving everyone access to more hyper-local information.”

‘Trillions in medical costs’

The executive director of Greenpeace South East Asia, Yeb Sano, said: “Air pollution steals our livelihoods and our futures, but we can change that. In addition to human lives lost, there’s an estimated global cost of $225 billion in lost labor, and trillions in medical costs. This has enormous impacts, on our health and on our wallets.

“We want this report to make people think about the air we breathe, because when we understand the impacts of air quality on our lives, we will act to protect what’s most important.”

“The common culprit across the globe is the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – worsened by the cutting down our forests,” Sano said. “What we need to see is our leaders thinking seriously about our health and the climate by looking at a fair transition out of fossil fuels while telling us clearly the level of our air quality, so that steps can be taken to tackle this health and climate crisis.”

 

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