World leaders are facing calls to take action to reduce a three-kilometer thick
haze over South Asia that scientists say may lead to "several hundreds of thousands"
of premature deaths in the region over years to come.
is urging government delegates at the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable
Development--scheduled to open in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 26--to
implement global policies that tackle both environmental problems and poverty,
following evidence of the spread across the Indian subcontinent of a cloud of
"The haze is just another manifestation of the problem with current lifestyles,
whether it be the burning of fossil fuels or poor people's use of inefficient
cookers," said Paul Horsman, Greenpeace International's climate change campaigner.
Horsman stressed that the evidence presented this week in a report by a group
of scientists working for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), "clearly
illustrates that climate change and development are completely intertwined."
The UNEP report, 'Asian Brown Cloud: Climate and Other Environmental Impacts,'
blamed a combination of factors--including forest fires, agricultural waste incineration,
fossil fuel emissions from vehicles and heavy industry, as well as the widespread
use of cookers burning wood or other biomass, such as cow dung--for the brown
cloud which has affected the health and livelihoods of those in some of the most
impoverished areas in the region.
In addition to increasing the risk of respiratory problems among thousands
of people in the region--which stretches from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Bangladesh,
Nepal, and Sri Lanka--the blanket of pollutants could also disrupt weather patterns,
leading to reduced rates of rainfall over northwestern parts of Asia and increased
rates over the eastern coast of the continent, said the report.
The scientists pointed out that there had been two consecutive droughts during
1999-2000 in Pakistan and northwestern parts of India, while Bangladesh, Nepal,
and the northeastern states of India suffered severe flooding. In 1998, two thirds
of Bangladesh's land area was submerged, ruining 1.6 million hectares of cropland.
According to Greenpeace, the solution lies not only in the implementation
of treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol on reducing emissions of "greenhouse gases,"
but also in providing cleaner and renewable energy sources for those dependent
on organic fuels.
"Over 2.5 million people die each year as a result of pollution from indoor
cookers," Horsman said Wednesday as the effects of the Asian haze continued to
feature prominently in the international media. "Efficient cookers that use sustainably
managed biomass, would save lives, and they would also help the environment by
Greenpeace will present a petition to delegates at high-level discussions
during the Johannesburg summit that calls on governments around the world to produce
a timetable for action on the introduction of renewable energy.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, a Greenpeace ship will arrive in Bangkok, Thailand,
to focus on ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption and to help communities set
up local renewable-energy programs.
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