Children and Air Quality in Asia


In October 2016, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published the report “Clear the Air for Children” exposing the magnitude of the danger that air pollution poses for children.

The report shows that, in Asia alone, 300 million children live in areas with toxic levels of outdoor air pollution six times greater than the WHO set standard of 10m/m3 with 1.22 billion children in Asia living in areas that simply exceed WHO standards. Even more alarming, is that these estimates only account for exposure to outdoor air and do not include indoor air pollution. Moreover, UNICEF estimates that every year 600,000 children under-five years old die from diseases caused or aggravated by air pollution and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says these estimates could be 50% higher by 2050.

The reason children have a higher exposure when compared to adults is because they breathe twice as fast and their air intake volume is more relative to their body weight. They are vulnerable and exposed to air pollution before they are even born by changes in the placental function.  Air pollution can harm their bodies by affecting their developing organs, particularly their respiratory system and their brain. It has also been shown that air pollution can cause cognitive and physical development delays.  These negative effects are carried over into their adulthood. Studies have shown that children living in highly polluted areas can have reduced lung capacity by up to 20% and are more likely to have respiratory problems either in childhood or later in life.

In Asia, the situation is bleak. Emissions from factories and vehicles are high and with poor regulation, waste is often burnt, energy is mostly coal-fueled and many households burn biomass for cooking. All combined, the outdoor and indoor air quality tends to be among the worst across the world.

UNICEF comes to four conclusions to protect children from air pollution:

  1. Increase efforts to reduce air pollution and therefore reduce disease caused by air pollution as well as reduce the threat to children’s health and development. This includes better management of energy generation, waste management, public transportation, technology on vehicle and factory emissions and naturally more information and knowledge.
  2. Minimize children’s exposure at home, in schools and in those areas where they spend most time.
  3. Improve children’s overall health to reduce health complications from exposure to air pollution.
  4. Improve monitoring of air pollution and its link with children’s health.

What can individuals and families do?

  • Ensure good ventilation;
  • Clean cook stoves;
  • Prevent exposure to tobacco smoke;
  • Increase knowledge on how to protect themselves; and,
  • Better monitor air pollution to better understand time and characteristics of risk.


More air quality monitoring, and more knowledge on air pollution is essential to protect our children!



Crop Burning and Air Pollution


From the haze suffered by Singapore every year to the increasing air pollution in rural Asia and Africa and the recent spike of pollution in New Delhi, crop burning is the main culprit in the former and a key contributor in the latter.

Recent research in Europe has shown that smoke from wildfires, agricultural management and prescribed burns raises PM2.5 concentrations and other pollutants even in areas hundreds and thousands of miles from the physical fire. Researchers from Finland estimated that fires between 2005 and 2008 in Europe alone caused more than 2500 premature deaths. The main concern with these landscape fires is that they affect the immediate community but the air quality is detrimentally affected even thousands of miles away, depending on the atmospheric conditions.

This is exactly the case in Singapore, which is regularly affected by smoke haze due to regional forest fires, notably from agricultural management in Indonesia, made particularly bad due to the peat soils in the palm plantations which release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. The haze is aggravated by poor precipitation and changes in wind direction. Similarly, in late 2016 New Delhi saw an unprecedented spike in air pollution which was largely attributed to a mix of crop burning from the adjacent region, excessive firecracker usage during Diwali celebration and specific atmospheric conditions. At the time, widespread crop burning was observed by NASA using VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on satellite images.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), in 2000 it was estimated that 350 million hectares of land were affected by fire. Generally, most fires are caused by people for various agricultural and industrial purposes. FAO considers that greater awareness is needed on the economic and social consequences of crop burning and how to effectively manage it for both individuals and governments.

Although, according to FAO, the region most affected by fires is Africa, Asia has its fair share. The Association of South-East Asian countries (ASEAN) agreed in 2003 on a ‘zero burning policy’ for large scale agricultural businesses. The agreement, which was not signed by Indonesia, included sharing of ‘zero burning’ agricultural techniques and practices, management tools and other mechanisms to ensure ‘zero burning’ practices by large companies. However, the agreement acknowledged that small farmers could not cope with the costs associated with undertaking ‘zero burning’ practices. More than ten years from that agreement, we now know that little has been done for its successful implementation.

“The lack of government transparency makes it very hard for independent monitoring: concession maps are incomplete, data is lacking and we clearly have weak enforcement of laws,” said Greenpeace South East Asia forest campaigner Yuyun Andrade.

Indonesia has almost 15m hectares of peatland today, between 2000 and 2010 peatland declined by 41% in Sumatra, 90% of that deforestation is believed to have been carried out by palm-oil firms in a region with no monitoring system. Burning peat forests can have a very damaging effect, up to 200 times more than burning any other vegetation.

More precise data and more analysis of data is required to better understand how countries can effectively control crop burning in Asia.



Lets help our body fight pollution: 4 nutrients not to miss!


Worried about air pollution? Wondering what else could be done? Today’s tip is on optimal nutrition to help your body fight air pollution. Research has shown that the health effects of air pollution are caused because the body has an inflammatory response that overtime degenerates into disease.

“Recent research has highlighted the potential of targeted nutrition to combat the decreased antioxidant capability, respiratory inflammation and neurological symptoms associated with certain pollutants.” explains Dr Daniel Raederstorff, principal scientist, DSM.

Infact good nutrition is the key to empower our body to moderate that inflammatory response. There are a number of studies that pinpoint micronutrients that increase protection from air pollution through increasing antioxidant functions and reducing inflammatory reactions. These are Vitamin C and E, Beta-Carotene and Omega 3. In addition, studies have found specifically that persons with low B6 and B12 have higher susceptibility to the effects of air pollution.

“Nowdays diets are characterized by an increasing intake of prepackaged foods. This dietary pattern results in a nutrient profile that is low in beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs),” agrees Professor Lisa Wood, Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Diseases, University of Newcastle, Australia.

“As these nutrients protect against inflammation, populations are thus more susceptible to the damaging effects of pollutants, which can trigger chronic diseases such as asthma. Increasing the intake of antioxidants and PUFAs may reduce inflammation, providing opportunities for asthma management.”

What should I eat to help my body fight air pollution?

VITAMIN E- an antioxidant that helps protect against injuries in organs and can be found in dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, avocados, shellfish, fish, plant oils, broccoli, squash, avocado and fruits. Research at King’s College, London, has shown that people suffering from lung diseases have decreased levels of vitamin E.

VITAMIN C- is a powerful anti-oxidant that can be found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, berries, tomatoes, dark leafy greens, kiwifruit, guava, peas and papaya.


Beta Carotene- an antioxidant found in carrots, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, and winter squash.

Omega 3 (polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)- omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. Flaxseed oil, fish oil, chia seeds, walnuts, fish roe (eggs), fatty fish, seafood, soybeans, and spinach. Many of which are also rich in Vitamin B6 and/or B12.

Other foods commonly recommended are spirulina, cilantro and chlorella.

Start now and boost your body’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacity!



The hard work of tackling air quality. Is Asia up for the challenge?


At the beginning of November 2016 air pollution in New Delhi sky-rocketed due to a combination of weather conditions, crop burning and extensive firecracker use during the Diwali celebrations, adding to the already bad air quality in the city. The peak was so dramatic that schools where closed for several days and the Government has been asked to take decisive measures to tackle this lingering menace.

 A task force outlined 10 steps that need to be taken to reduce air pollution in India, which are accessible, available and possible, but that require commitment from a range of institutions. It includes prevention of crop burning, provision of clean fuel, switch to low sulphur fuel, shift freight transport from road to rail and implementing Euro VI emission standards.

“Tackling air pollution requires a concerted whole of society approach backed by strong political in order to make a difference to our present and future.” Said Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India

However, envisaging solutions and making them happen require strong political determination and more. The latest European air quality report released on November 23rd, is a clear example of the challenges of tackling air quality.

The report highlights that emissions across the EU have slightly decreased but air pollution continues to be the greatest environmental health risk for Europeans, causing approximately 467,000 premature deaths per year in addition to the economic impact of cutting lives short, increasing medical costs and decreasing productivity.

The key pollutants that are harming Europeans health are particulate matter (PM), NO2 and 03. Regulations have ensured a reduction of PM, NO2 and 03 but large parts of Europe are still exposed to concentrations exceeding the limits set by WHO and even the less strict limits set by the EU. A further reduction of emissions is expected but trends suggest that excess readings will persist into 2020. The report highlights the need to further reduce agricultural emissions, the sector where emissions have decreased the least.

“Emission reductions have led to improvements in air quality in Europe, but not enough to avoid unacceptable damage to human health and the environment. We need to tackle the root causes of air pollution, which calls for a fundamental and innovative transformation of our mobility, energy and food systems.”   Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director

This report on Europe’s air quality highlights the need for all countries to start moving in the environmental direction because progress is slow. China has been under the international scrutiny on air quality for many years now and has only recently acknowledged the problem and the need to tackle it. The latest five-year plan is a commitment to a cleaner and greener economy. The plan has put emphasis on improving the quality of the environment based on caps on coal consumption, bans on new coal-fired power plants and greater scrutiny of emissions. More recently, the Chinese Government has launched a system of ‘pollution permits’ which are issued by the local environmental bureaus and clearly state the permitted levels of pollution allowed per factory. The first industry to be affected will be the coal-fired power plants and paper-making facilities. This will be expanded in 2017 to the 15 industries that are the greatest hazard to air and water quality and it is expected that by 2020 all highly polluting industries will be covered.

Today the most polluted region of the world is Asia –both North and South. More and bolders commitment to reduce air pollution and improve air quality across Asia is required with no delay.

Know more about the air quality you breathe, strive to protect yourself!