Anyone who has lived or travelled in Asia will know that wearing face masks in public was a done thing before the Covid-19 pandemic.
In cities such as Jakarta, Indonesia, belching fumes from heavy traffic have long meant the wearing of coverings by some of the tens of thousands of motorcyclists clogging the streets at rush hour.
The continuing impact of air pollution in Asia makes it a bigger global health challenge than alcohol, cigarettes, dirty drinking water or traffic accidents, according to the University of Chicago in the United States.
Data from the university’s Air Quality of Life Index showed air pollution to be “the world’s greatest external risk to human health”, with Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Mongolia listed as the five worst-affected countries, where life expectancies have been reduced by up to six years.
“In no other location on the planet is the deadly impact of pollution more visible than in South Asia, home to the four most polluted countries in the world and nearly a quarter of the global population,” the university said.
And with air pollution also a concern in China and Indonesia, the world’s second-most and fourth-most populous countries respectively, the overall effect on life expectancies worldwide was “comparable to that of smoking, more than three times that of alcohol use and unsafe water, and more than five times that of transport injuries like car crashes”.
Previous studies have suggested around two-thirds of air pollution deaths take place in Asia.
The university said that although China “has had remarkable success” in cutting air pollution over the past decade, it remains “six times higher than the WHO (World Health Organization) guideline”, meaning a life expectancy reduction of 2.5 years.
And while Europe and North America fare better than other regions, air pollution levels there remain above the recommended WHO level. – dpa