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Better Air Quality (BAQ) 2008
was held in Bangkok, Thailand
12-14 November 2008

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Breathing killing Asia: over half a million die annually
by Munza Mushtaq – Reporting from Yogyakarta

Air pollution, the silent killer, eradicating thousands around the world, is killing at least half a million in the Asian region alone, with increased trends in urbanization and motor vehicle use being identified as the key culprits for the worsening conditions.

Delivering the keynote address at the Better Air Quality 2006 workshop held mid last month in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Michal Krzyzanowski, head of air quality and health at World Health Organization's (WHO) European Centre for Environment and Health, citing a recent WHO assessments disclosed that globally at least 750,000 lives are lost due to air pollution, of which about 500,000 are Asians. Better Air Quality 2006 (BAQ), the largest regional event on urban air quality management in Asia held from December 13 to 15 in Yogyakarta was attended by approximately 900 participants including decision makers from some 35 countries. The workshop was organized by Clean Air Initiative – Asia and the Ministry of Environment, Indonesia.

While urging Asian governments to intensify efforts to reduce air pollution in their respective countries, Krzyzanowski noted that the world has seen enough, and don't need anymore evidence to act to secure a better future for the children and all other living beings. "We know enough to act and see action been taken, for this we need political will. Improve legislations, implement better air quality standards, to implement these we need local, national and international contribution and will," he emphasized.

A decade from now, Asia is expected to house about 2 billion urban residents. Approximately 44 million are being added to the region's cities each year – equivalent to 120,000 people every day. Fifty percent of the world population will be in Asia by 2030, out of which 50% of that population will live in urban Asia. "To accommodate these people, a huge amount of cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and other motorized vehicles is being added to our streets, their number doubling every five to seven years. The ramifications of this for air quality are daunting," warns Bindu Lohani, Director General of Asian Development Bank's Regional and Sustainability Development Department.

He suggested new approaches such as stronger enforcement of air quality regulations coupled with innovative policies like emissions trading regimes, stricter fuel quality requirements, tighter vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and the sparing use of energy backed by strong political will to carry out the necessary reforms to fight this daunting task.

He also highlighted the dependence of coal to meet the region's ever growing energy needs as economic growth continues to apace also present heavy air pollution risks. This has huge implications for the region's emissions of greenhouse gasses, which are set to become the largest in the world over the next few years. Meanwhile, WHO believes that lowering levels of the fine particulate known as PM10 could bring down the level of pollution-related deaths in cities by 15% a year.


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