Pollution Cloud Over South Asia Threatens Economies

National Geographic News
August 12, 2002

This story aired on our U.S. cable television program National Geographic Today

A vast blanket of pollution stretching across South Asia is damaging agriculture, modifying rainfall patterns, and putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk, a new study suggests.

The findings, by scientists working with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), indicate that the spectacular economic growth seen in this part of the world in the past decade may soon falter as a result of the "Asian Brown Haze."

Vital follow-up studies are needed to unravel the precise role this three-kilometer-deep pollution blanket may be having on the region's climate and the world's.

The preliminary results indicate that the buildup of the haze, a mass of ash, acids, aerosols and other particles, is disrupting weather systems including rainfall and wind patterns and triggering droughts in western Asia.

The concern is that the regional and global impacts of the haze are set to intensify over the next 30 years as the population of the Asian region rises to an estimated five billion people.

"The haze is the result of forest fires, the burning of agricultural wastes, dramatic increases in the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, industries, and power stations, and emissions from millions of inefficient cookers burning wood, cow dung, and other 'bio fuels,'" said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP.

"More research is needed, but these initial findings clearly indicate that this growing cocktail of soot, particles, aerosols, and other pollutants are becoming a major environmental hazard for Asia. There are also global implications, not least because a pollution parcel like this, which stretches three kilometers high, can travel halfway round the globe in a week," said Toepfer.

Toepfer said that the discovery of the haze highlights the need to figure out "how to achieve economic growth without sacrificing the long-term health and natural wealth of the planet. We have the initial findings, and the technological and financial resources available, let's now develop the science and find the political and moral will to achieve this for the sake of Asia, for the sake of the world."

The findings on the Asian Brown Cloud have come from observations gathered by 200 scientists working on the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX), supplemented by new satellite readings and computer modelling.

Continued on Next Page >>


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