Air Pollution An Emerging Cross Border Crisis

Air pollution is not something new, and started affecting people in significant ways when the industrial revolution broke out during the late 19th century. About a hundred years have passed since then, and we have finally put a name to the phenomenon, calling it air pollution.

Although we as humans have now improved and developed technologies and methods to reduce and minimize air pollution, it remains a problem, affecting many people around the world. The question is, to what extent does pollution affects our lives in this day and age.

The recent decades have seen and emergence of a rather unusual environmental phenomenon rarely seen or heard of 50 years ago. This phenomenon, known as the haze, has caused plenty of health issues and inconveniences in recent decades. Severe cases of haze have been reported in two main regions, Southeast Asia and China.

These two instances of haze had rather different causes. In Southeast Asia, it was forest fires in certain parts of Sumatra and Borneo that were started to clear land for oil palm planting. These fires caused intense smoke to blow across borders and affected many countries in the region, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. On the other hand, China’s haze was caused by industrial and vehicular emissions.

In both these cases however, the haze, which is a severe form of air pollution, shared one thing in common. They may have originated in one country, but the pollutants hardly stayed within the borders of that country and are often transported by wind and other weather phenomenon to neighboring regions.

In a new and groundbreaking study published in Nature, a group of researchers have broken the old belief that air pollution affects only the country where the pollution is produced, and its neighbors. The study found that international trade causes death of hundreds of thousands of people due to the fact that goods produced in countries with serious air pollution can affect consumers in another continent thousands of miles away.

This is a shocking find, as it was previously believed that air pollution only traveled via atmospheric movements. This paper has systematically proven that pollution can actually travel in products and affect consumers in other regions.

The research group, led by Qiang Zhang, a researcher from Beijing’s Tsinghua University also found that almost 13% of deaths from air pollution in 2007 was caused by pollutants produced in another region of the world, located far away from where the deaths occurred. An example of this is data showing that air pollution in China affected 3100 people in the US and Western Europe, causing their premature deaths.

Consumption and demand for products in the western world was also shown to cause air pollution in China, causing up to 108,600 premature deaths. These startling data merely shows that international trade has played a significant role in increasing the reach of air pollutants.

The findings of this group heavily emphasized the need for us as citizens of the world to realize that air pollution is a globalized issue, and tackle it as such. Previously, the strategies to combat air pollution have always been localized and handled internally by governments. However, there is sufficient evidence now to show that international trade can in fact ‘transport’ the effects of air pollution around the world and not just contain it within the country of production and its neighboring countries.

In short, international trade has now been shown to extend the reaches of air pollution far beyond what was previously believed, and therefore a more holistic approach involving stakeholders from all the countries in the world should consider what this means to their trade and diplomatic policies, in order to protect the masses from premature death and other worrying health impacts.

Gentle reminder: The information on this article is not meant to replace a qualified healthcare professional and should not be considered as professional advise. Please seek appropriate medical help when necessary.

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