ISLAMABAD, Sep 08 (APP):The growing air pollution in the densely-populated Asia Pacific region has emerged as a major health challenge, causing damaging impacts on the environment, public health and agricultural crop yields. However, tackling these adverse impacts, which have led to unprecedented economic consequences, affecting economic growth as well as welfare, are not possible without a coordinated policy and planning measures at the regional level.
This was stated by global experts on air pollution, environment and climate change in an online international dialogue on ‘Regional Conversation on Air Pollution in Asia-Pacific’ held on Tuesday as a part of the commemoration of the 1st International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, which was celebrated all over the world on September 7, according to a press statement issued here by Ministry of Climate Change.
The Day aims to raise public awareness at all levels—individual, community, corporate and government—that clean air is important for health, productivity, the economy and the environment.
The online international dialogue was organised jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Addressing the event, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, said that air pollution in Asia-Pacific, of which over 40 percent comes from transport sector, continues to affect nearly entire over four billion population of the region, posing grave risk to the initiatives aimed at boosting socio-economic growth, food security and addressing health, malnutrition, health, education, environment and climate change issues.
“While the air pollution is now the gravest of the all challenges facing the Asia Pacific region, it cannot be overcome without enhanced and well-coordinated regional response through viable policies and actions,” emphasised.
He said further that air pollution is very much a cross-border issue in many Asia-Pacific and South Asian countries, where inhabitants share the same air mass.
But, since it has become highly contaminated due to unsustainable production and consumption patterns in countries of both of the regions, affecting population in other countries of the region, tapping potential benefits of cross-border efforts in Asia-Pacific and South Asian regions to mitigate air pollutions is key, Malik Amin Aslam underlined.
“Keeping in view the regional and global nature of sources and causes of air pollution, it can only be effectively tackled if we work together.” the prime minister’s advisor Malik Amin Aslam said.
Explaining various initiatives of the incumbent government, Malik Amin Aslam said that a nation-wide movement ‘Clean Green Pakistan’ was launched last year besides the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme to not only fight air pollution impacts but also shifting energy, industry and agriculture sectors on clean energy sources.
Besides, an ambition electric vehicle policy is being implemented in Pakistan, which aims at seeing electric vehicles capture 30% of all the passenger vehicle and heavy-duty truck sales by 2030, and 90% by 2040. Crop burning, which also is leading cause of air pollution, particularly during winter seasons is also being discouraged in farming sector and efforts are being taken to shift fossil fuel-run brick kilns on zig-zag technology to reduce the brick kiln sector’s carbon footprints, he elaborated.
Making mention of the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 crisis, Malik Amin said that the world saw the large-scale decline in global air pollution, making the skies clear of air pollutions.
“Prominent silver lining flashed out by the COVID-19 health crisis is that world has still the opportunity to tap for overcoming air pollution through adopting clean energy sources instead of fossil fuel-based energy sources used pre-dominantly in industry, transport and agriculture sector,” he elaborated.
Ban Ki-Moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations said during his keynote address to the event that with extreme air pollution events on the rise in the world, particularly in Asia-Pacific and South Asia regions, there is pressing need for joint action at the global and regional scales to mitigate pollution and its fallouts, has received an advocacy and public awareness boost when, for the first time ever, the world marked the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies on 7 September.
He said that adopted by a UN General Assembly Resolution in 2019, the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies – whose observance is facilitated by the UN Environment Progamme (UNEP) – stresses the importance of and urgent need for global action and call for raising public awareness at all levels and to promote and facilitate actions to improve air quality.
The United Nations former secretary general noted that in many parts of the world extreme air pollution events have become a seasonal phenomenon, almost as reliable as the monsoon or autumn foliage.
For instance, in early November, New Delhi and other cities in northern India as well as Pakistan’s upper and central parts experienced levels of air pollution that cancelled flights and kept people masked and indoors, he added.
Ban Ki-Moon said further that these are examples of the extreme impacts of a crisis that affects us all – air pollution affects human, animal and planetary health, with an estimated 7 million people dying prematurely from diseases caused by air pollution.
Lee Wook-heon, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Thailand, said that 99 percent of the Asia-Pacific is exposed to polluted air causing an estimated half of the ]seven million premature deaths caused due to air pollution every year.
“Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats to the right to health today, being responsible for 7 million premature deaths each year. Air pollutants also contribute directly to the climate crisis, endangering health and livelihoods of generations current and future,” he told the participants of the online international dialogue.
The COVID-19 has further exposed the fragility of our societies and economies to shocks, highlighting the urgency of improving our relationship with nature. Early studies are projecting that air pollution increases the likelihood of succumbing to COVID-19, giving us yet another reason to urgently improve global air quality, the ambassador Lee Wook-heo highlighted.
“We must understand that environmental health is inextricably llinked to human health. Therefore, improving our air quality will bring health, development and environmental benefits,” he stressed.