Vietnam, Asian neighbors face alarming air pollution crisis: report

By Minh Nga   March 20, 2024 | 11:36 pm PT
A grim reality has been reported: Asia experienced the world's most severe air pollution in 2023, with 18 out of the top 30 polluted countries hailing from the region.

Vietnam, ranked 22nd, finds itself in the midst of this crisis, largely attributable to the climate emergency, posing grave risks to the health of its populace.

The 2023 World Air Quality Report, released by Swiss company IQAir earlier this week, paints a distressing picture. Bangladesh emerges as the epicenter of this pollution crisis, surpassing the World Health Organization's safety standards for air quality by a staggering 16-fold, with an annual average PM2.5 concentration of 79.9 μg/m³. Trailing closely are Pakistan at 73.7 and India at 54.4, the latter dominating nine of the top 10 spots for cities with the highest pollution levels.

Compiled from data gathered by over 30,000 air quality monitoring stations across 7,812 locations in 134 countries, territories, and regions, the report underscores the magnitude of the problem. PM2.5 concentration, fine particulate aerosol particles with a diameter of up to 2.5 microns, a fraction of a human's hair, serves as the primary indicator of air quality, forming the basis for ranking pollution levels worldwide.

Vietnam ranks 22nd globally with a PM2.5 concentration of 29.6 μg/m³, surpassing WHO guidelines by sixfold. Such exposure to PM2.5 pollution spells dire consequences for public health, exacerbating a myriad of conditions including asthma, cancer, stroke, and respiratory illnesses.

The World Health Organization warns that heightened levels of fine particles can impede cognitive development in children, exacerbate mental health issues, and complicate existing ailments such as diabetes.

The report elucidates that climatic factors compounded existing air quality woes in Southeast Asia in 2023. El Niño conditions delayed the onset of the rainy season, thereby prolonging the presence of PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere. Chief sources of PM2.5 in the region remain rooted in power generation, industrial activities, vehicular emissions, and rampant open burning practices.

PM2.5 concentrations rose in eight out of nine Southeast Asian countries compared to the previous year, with Indonesia once again emerging as the most polluted nation in the region. Cambodia, previously the least polluted, saw a threefold increase in PM2.5 levels, ceding its position to Singapore.

Hanoi December, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Hanoi is covered in smog caused by air pollution, December 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

In Vietnam specifically, the report highlights a nearly 9% increase in PM2.5 levels in 2023, reverting to pre-pandemic concentrations. The capital city of Hanoi saw PM2.5 levels soaring by 9% to 43.7 µg/m³, nearly nine times the WHO guideline.

It stands as the 8th most polluted city in Asia and 233rd out of 7,812 cities in the global ranking. Ho Chi Minh City stands at 1,048 globally, with an annual average PM2.5 level at 21.8 µg/m³.

Various sources contribute to Vietnam's air pollution woes, including an aging vehicle fleet, coal-fired power plants, industrial activities, inefficient waste management practices, and agricultural practices such as post-harvest rice straw burning in the Mekong Delta, a significant contributor to regional pollution, as noted by the World Bank.

Only 10 countries and territories had "healthy" air quality according to IQAir report, having PM5.2 levels below 5.0. They are Finland, Estonia, Puerto Rico, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius and French Polynesia.

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