UN ESCAP Calls for Urgent Regional Action to Improve Asia-Pacific Air Quality
The head of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), today issued an urgent call for countries across the region to prioritize critical issues of air quality and human health.
“Health is the single most important enabler of development,” said ESCAP Executive Secretary, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer. “In our efforts to build a more sustainable region we must ensure that preventing the pollution of our air, our water, our food, and other common regional goods, is given the highest possible priority. There is little point in investing in healthcare systems and ensuring access if, at the same time, the cost of our growth is the destruction of the most basic environmental resources on which human health depends.”
In the context of increasingly severe climate change, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have dominated regional and global air quality discussions. Dr. Heyzer stressed however that: “We must also remember that one of the most serious and directly damaging issues of air pollution, especially in our rapidly urbanizing regions, is the concentration of particulates, which greatly increases the risk of heart and lung diseases and cancers.”
Urban air pollution generated by vehicles, industries, and energy production, causes an estimated 500 000 premature deaths in Asian cities every year. With more than 1.7 billion people across the region still reliant on dung, wood, crop waste and coal to meet their basic energy needs, indoor air pollution from solid fuel use is estimated to be responsible for more than 1.6 million deaths. Exposure rates are especially high amongst women and children, who spend the most time near domestic hearths.
“The ongoing problem of air pollution between Indonesia and Singapore is symptomatic of a much wider challenge for the countries of Asia and the Pacific,” said Dr. Heyzer. “Cross-boundary pollution is politically complex, but it must be urgently addressed. We need more effective frameworks to manage ecosystem services, such as air and water, which transcend administrative and political boundaries. These are regional issues which must be tackled at the regional as well as the national and local levels.”
Calling on the governments of Asia-Pacific to do more, with greater urgency, to tackle issues of worsening air quality, Dr. Heyzer added: “The nexus of air, water, food, energy and land is not simply an environmental one – this is where social, economic, and environmental concerns converge. Our commitment to sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific will ultimately stand or fall on our response to these issues, and it is through the strengthening of existing mechanisms, and through inclusive intergovernmental platforms, such as ESCAP, that we can best address them to the benefit of all the people of our region.”