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Air pollution killer in Asian cities

MANILA (AFP) - Air pollution is killing more than half a million people in Asian cities each year and shows no sign of improving as urban centers expand, studies by the Asian Development Bank show.
A recent ADB conference in Indonesia, was told that air pollution had reached "serious" levels in several Asian cities, with the problem worsening due to increased urbanization and motor vehicle use.

World Health Organization (WHO) expert Michal Krzyzanowski said that the estimate of premature deaths caused by urban air pollution has been revised upwards to over 750,000 globally, including more than 530,000 in Asia.

Experts cited the increase in an air pollutant known as fine particulate matter or PM10 that "enters the lungs and stays there."

PM10 is a result of burning fossil fuels and much of the PM10 in Asian cities is emitted by motor vehicles, the experts said.

"The concentration of the fine particulate matter is serious in Beijing, Dhaka, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Kathmandu, Kolkata, New Delhi, and Shanghai," the ADB warned in a report.

"There is a strong association between fine particulate matter and health issues in Asia as there is in Europe and the US, but in Asia the concentrations of particulates are much higher," said the report's author, Dieter Schwela.

In many cities, the concentration of PM10 exceeds 70 micrograms per cubic meter. New WHO guidelines say this should be lower than 20 micrograms per cubic meter.

Bringing the level down to the guidelines could lower the number of deaths in polluted cities by as much as 15 percent every year, the WHO said, calling for lower limits of other pollutants such as ozone and sulphur dioxide.

"Asia's growth in population, urbanization, motorization and energy consumption remain key challenges in efforts to counter air pollution. For example, lower emissions from vehicles are counter-balanced by a higher volume of vehicles," the ADB said.

Another ADB study said emerging Asia currently has rather low levels of personal motorized transport, in many cases comprising mainly motorcycles, but these levels are likely to increase drastically as incomes in these countries grow and the urban populations expands.

The Manila-based bank cited China, already the world's fourth-largest economy, where the number of cars and sport utility vehicles could rise by as much as 15 times over the next 30 years to more than 190 million vehicles.

In India, the growth could be as much as 13-fold, it said.

Correspondingly, carbon dioxide emissions could be expected to rise by 3.4 times for China and 5.8 times for India over the same period, the ADB study said.

To help address these problems, the Indonesia conference, attended by representatives of 20 Asian countries, issued a call for a review of air quality standards and air pollution indices all over the region to make them more effective and more comparable to each other.

The conference summary also called for a new "roadmap" for improved fuel quality and emission standards for new vehicles as well as more strategies to control emissions from vehicles that are already on the roads.

Other recommended measures included promoting clean, alternative, renewable energy, encouraging the use of mass public transport systems and even promoting urban housing that lowers energy consumption and emissions.

Mynardo Macaraig