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Into the Haze: Air Pollution and Our Health

Publisher/Author : Pacific Cross

In our article about air quality in China and Vietnam, the focus was mainly air quality levels and how surprisingly, those levels can often be worse in Vietnam’s major cities than in China’s.

This time, we will look at the health effects of polluted air. Just how bad is it for people to be breathing poor quality air. What are potential consequences, and what can you do to lower your risk?

Air pollution kills around 7 million people each year, accounting for one in every eight deaths worldwide in 2012 according to the WHO. Main causes of death resulting from polluted air include stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and respiratory infections. The situation is especially bad in Asia-Pacific, which has a population of over 4.2 billion and very high population density.

In 2010, 40% of the world’s premature deaths caused by air pollution were in China, which is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Similarly, concerns are building in India, where air pollution is climbing as a common cause of death. Between 2000 and 2010 the number of annual premature deaths linked to air pollution in the country increased six times to 620,000. In May 2014, The WHO said that New Delhi had the worst air of 1,600 cities surveyed worldwide. Not only has this caused disease risk to increase, but it has also resulted in a significant drop in India’s wheat and rice crop yields.

Southeast Asia (SEA) is not immune to this issue. As economies in the region have boomed in recent decades, so have populations. According to the WHO, nearly one million deaths due to ambient air pollution occurred in Southeast Asia.

While the main cause of this pollution in parts of SEA such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore is known to be wildfires on the peatlands of Sumatra, a more recent issue is the increasing number of vehicles on roads in countries like Vietnam as well as massive industrial emissions both there and in neighbouring China. So what can be done?

Governments in some countries are taking steps to fight the problem. In China, the number of vehicles being registered is limited by a license plate lottery system. In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is building hundreds of pollution monitoring stations throughout the southern metropolis. While these plans and actions may not have immediate direct effect on all civilians, they at least represent government awareness of the issue and some positive steps being taken.

Individuals are protecting themselves with ubiquitous masks seen all around the Asia-Pacific region. But as for prevention, there are numerous things an average citizen can do to help reduce smog and haze. In Vietnam specifically, the sheer number of private vehicles, especially motorbikes, makes up for a large portion of polluted air. By using them less, everyone can contribute to a cleaner air environment.

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