Air pollution is a major environmental issue affecting people across the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 2 million people worldwide die every year from air pollution. Of all the air pollutants, fine particulate matter (PM) is one of the most hazardous pollution for the human health. The particulate matter causes about 9% of lung cancer deaths worldwide, 5% of cardiopulmonary deaths and about 1% of respiratory infection deaths. According to the WHO, there is mounting evidence that concentration of particulate matter is increasing in Asia. Particulate matter mostly originates from dust storms, grassland fires, burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plants, but also various industrial plants generate significant amounts of particulates. The interactive map shows that South Asia is badly hit by pollution caused by particulate matter. While Pakistan has the highest concentration of particulate matter, countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and India are placed by the WHO in a category called “unhealthy for the sensitive people”. That means people in these countries suffering from respiratory and heart disease, as well as elderly and children should limit outdoor exertion. Air pollution in China is as bad, if not worse, than in India but according to the WHO, the particulate matter concentration in China and in countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Indonesia remains moderate. There is the least presence of particulate matter in Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Japan.
The particulate matter represents a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air, many of which are hazardous. These particles are either directly emitted into the air by sources such as smoke, dust, pollen, or formed in the atmosphere by transformation of emitted gases. The particulate matter can adversely affect human health and also have an impact on climate and precipitation. On the basis of size, the particulate matter is divided into two categories. The particles up to 10 micrometers in size are called PM 10 and smaller particles of 2.5 micrometer in size are called PM2.5. The WHO has measured outdoor air pollution caused by both types of the particulate matter and according to these findings, air can be contaminated by a range of different particles of which many can harm our health, especially very small particles that enter into the lungs and bloodstream and cause the most serious health problems. In Asia, like in other regions of the world, pollution caused by particulate matter is spreading to new areas. The graph, based on the data obtained from the WHO, ranks Asian countries according to the PM10 level in the air. As the data suggests, Pakistan is the most polluted country in the region in terms of particulate matter concentration in the air. It is followed by Bangladesh, India, Nepal, China, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Japan.
Air pollution in some Asian cities is so bad that at times, the cities are enveloped by a blanket of smog that impedes visibility. According to the WHO, air pollution has worsened in Asian cities in recent years and presents a threat to human health. In many cities the levels of fine particulate matter - a key pollutant in terms of its impact on human health - are exceeding the critical limit (as defined by the WHO), specifically in densely populated, fast-growing and less developed countries like China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even in small Asian cities like Kathmandu, the particulate matter level exceeds the most lenient of several targets recommended by the WHO. Over the last few years, China has been in the news for heavy pollution in its cities with the skies being completely blanketed by smog. India and Pakistan, however, have the dubious distinction of having the most polluted cities in the region. If we take a look at the statistics concerning capital cities in Asia, the air pollution caused by the particulate matter is worst in Delhi. It is closely followed by Islamabad, Dhaka, Beijing and Kathmandu.
Air pollution is one of the main causes of premature deaths in the world. Of all major global health risks, outdoor air pollution in the form of fine particles is found to be much more dangerous for public health than previously known - contributing annually to over 2 million premature deaths worldwide. The WHO global study ranks air pollution as one of the top 10 killers in the world, with 65 percent of all air pollution deaths occurring in Asia. In 2010 alone, particulate matter pollution was the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths in China, behind high blood pressure and smoking. Across the region, increasing levels of particulate matter are causing higher numbers of premature deaths. The graph reveals the human toll due to outdoor air pollution in 2008, which is the latest comparative data available. A record number of people have died due to air pollution in the region. In the year 2008 alone, over half-million people have died in China and India. Other countries in the region have also suffered heavily from air pollution. On top of that, the future looks very bleak. By 2050, urban air pollution is estimated to cause up to 3.6 million premature deaths worldwide each year, mostly in China and India.