• Asian Regions Subject to Particularly High Levels of Environmental Pollution

Environmental Laboratory

Asian Regions Subject to Particularly High Levels of Environmental Pollution

May 02 2023

Asia, the world's largest continent, is grappling with an alarming extent of environmental pollution. According to a report by Verisk Maplecroft, 99 out of the 100 cities facing the biggest environmental risks are in Asia, with 37 in China and 43 in India. These environmental hazards include extreme heat, climate change, and natural disasters. Globally, 414 cities with a population of over one million each are vulnerable to pollution, dwindling water supplies, extreme heat, natural hazards, and climate change, affecting approximately 1.4 billion people. 

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, has been named the riskiest city globally due to severe air pollution, perennial threats from flooding, and seismic activities. With a population of around 10 million, Jakarta is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, experiencing heavy traffic and being flood-prone. Although the Indonesian government revealed plans to move the capital from Jakarta to the island of Borneo, the Covid-19 pandemic stalled the project. 

In India, urban cities like Delhi, Chennai, Jaipur, Lucknow, Bengaluru, and Mumbai are among the top 30 places most at risk. New Delhi, the Indian capital, has made headlines for hazardous air quality, leading officials to declare public health emergencies and close schools. India faces the twin challenges of air and water pollution. The Verisk Maplecroft report noted that noxious air caused nearly one in five deaths in India in 2019, resulting in economic losses of $36 billion. Water pollution, on the other hand, leads to roughly 400,000 deaths each year and almost $9 billion in annual health-care costs. 

East Asian cities face a higher risk of natural disasters. Cities like Guangzhou and Dongguan in China are prone to flooding, while Shenzhen in China and Tokyo and Osaka in Japan face threats such as earthquakes and typhoons. Pollution is a significant problem in China, with the country and India accounting for 286 million of the 336 million people living in cities at extreme risk of pollution. 

African cities are the most vulnerable to climate change, as they experience extreme weather events and are the least equipped to mitigate the physical impacts. Verisk Maplecroft's Will Nichols warns that climate change will amplify weather-related risks, altering the quality of living and economic growth prospects for many cities worldwide. 

Last month, leaders from countries like Brazil, Canada, and Japan committed to curbing domestic greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change during a climate summit hosted by President Joe Biden. The United States pledged to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030. 

The report highlights that environmental challenges are not evenly shared across regions, with Asia being the most affected. Approximately 1.5 billion people live in cities facing "high or extreme risk." Asia's dense population puts pressure on water sources and exacerbates pollution from the widespread burning of coal and biomass fuels. The region also has a large number of "natural hazards" built into its geography, such as earthquakes in Japan and flooding in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. 

Jakarta, Indonesia's sprawling capital, is the most vulnerable city in the world to environmental risks due to rising sea levels, land subsidence, and air pollution from nearby coal-fired power stations. India fares the worst as a country, with 13 of the 20 riskiest cities and 43 of the top 100 identified by the report. Poor air quality is largely to blame for India's high level of environmental risk, contributing to 1.7 million premature deaths in 2019. 

China has 37 of the 100 cities considered most at risk, with air pollution being the largest factor. President Xi Jinping has made cleaning up China's air a priority since he took office in 2013, establishing programs that encourage the replacement of coal-powered stoves in homes with gas and electric ones and disciplining factories that exceed pollution limits through fines and shutdowns. However, the government remains behind schedule to meet its own targets, according to Bloomberg, especially as China has ramped up plans to build new coal plants as it recovers from the economic lull of the pandemic. 

In contrast, African cities generally have lower levels of air pollution compared to their Asian counterparts, and they also tend to face fewer threats from natural hazards, says Will Nichols, Head of Environment and Climate Change Research at Verisk Maplecroft, who led the report. However, African cities are the most at risk from climate change, accounting for 38 of the 40 most vulnerable cities in an index focused solely on climate risks. This vulnerability stems from the region's poorly funded public services and infrastructure, as well as the extreme heat and weather events that climate change is already disproportionately making more common in Africa. 

Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, faces Africa's greatest environmental risks, ranking 144th out of 576 in total, due to problems with air quality, water pollution, and heat stress. However, it is the fourth most vulnerable city to climate change globally. 

The information provided by the Verisk Maplecroft report serves as a crucial guide for companies making business decisions, as well as for communities and policymakers looking to the future of their cities. Nichols emphasizes the importance of addressing these environmental threats, stating that they are not going away and, in many cases, will worsen due to climate change. He urges stakeholders to factor these risks into their decision-making process today, as postponing action will only exacerbate the situation. 

In conclusion, the extent of environmental pollution in Asia is alarmingly high, with 99 out of the 100 top cities facing the most significant environmental risks located in the region. These challenges, ranging from extreme heat and climate change to natural disasters, demand immediate attention and action from governments, businesses, and individuals. It is crucial for all stakeholders to work together and implement sustainable solutions to mitigate the adverse effects of pollution and ensure a cleaner, healthier, and safer future for the generations to come. 

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