Asia’s poor choking on polluted airArchive
NEW DELHI: Polluted air is a “public health emergency”, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday, adding that nine out of 10 people globally breathe bad air that is blamed for more than six million deaths a year.
And the WHO warned that nearly 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region — including China — are the hardest hit, the data showed.
South Asia is also badly affected, with the WHO saying poor air quality is responsible for the deaths of more than 600,000 people in India and 37,000 people in Bangladesh every year.
Pakistan too is suffering, with experts blaming unplanned and unsustainable development and warning that proposals for more coal-fired power stations will further worsen air quality.
Smog is a perennial problem across China, where pollution from heavy industry and a rapidly growing fleet of cars brews a toxic haze. Even Shanghai, reputed to have some of China’s cleanest air, struggles with constant haze.
Here are snapshots from two South Asian cities.
In the shadow of a massive smouldering rubbish dump outside India’s sprawling capital, Ritu Devi fears for her children whom she says constantly fall sick from dirty air.
“Everything hurts. My eyes burn, my head hurts and I feel very dizzy at times,” said Devi, who guesses her age at 22 or 23.
“My children keep coughing and falling sick. My eyes burn and they start to water. These things keep happening to us,” she said, as her two-year-old daughter sat on her lap and tugged on her sari.
“We suffer because of all this smoke and pollution,” said Devi, whose husband works at a nearby market.
In Pakistan’s largest city and commercial hub, Abdul Aziz, a 65-year-old rickshaw driver, said the pollution was suffocating.
“In traffic jams, the smoke emitting from bus and other vehicles is badly suffocating — it makes me feel very ill,” he said.
“I am a diabetic and the pollution further aggravates my illness. The environmental pollution is impacting my health and it becomes extremely difficult for me to drive the rickshaw in the suffocating traffic jams.
“So I have to park the vehicle on the side of the road till I catch my breath back.”
Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2016