Asian Pollution Cloud Fears
Source: Rupert Murdoch (Sky News)
A two-mile cloud of pollution shrouding southern Asia is threatening the lives of millions of people in the region and could have an impact much further afield, according to a United Nations study.It says the cloud, a toxic cocktail of ash, acids, aerosols and other particles, is damaging agriculture and changing rainfall patterns across the region, which stretches from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka.
Millions of lives were at risk from drought and flooding as rainfall patterns were radically altered with dire implications for economic growth and health.
Scientists believe that the giant smog cloud, which could travel half way round the world in a week, has implications on a global scale and are now calling for more research to be done.
The study shows that the cloud is the result of forest fires, the burning of agricultural wastes, dramatic increases in the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, industrial waste and emissions from millions of inefficient cookers.
Professor Victor Ramanathan, one of the more than 200 scientists involved in the study, said the cloud is cutting the amount of solar energy hitting the earth's surface beneath it by up to 15%.
"We had expected a drop in sunlight hitting the earth and sea but not one of this magnitude," he said.
The report calculates that the cloud could cut rainfall over north-west Pakistan, Afghanistan, western China and western central Asia by up to 40%, while causing a huge increase in rain over eastern Asia.
Apart from drastically altering rainfall patterns, the cloud is also causing acid rain, damaging crops and trees and threatening hundreds of thousands of people with respiratory disease.
Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen - one of the first scientists to identify the causes of the hole in the ozone layer and also involved in the UN report - said up to two million people in India alone were dying each year from atmospheric pollution.