Rice is very important to Asians, but clean air has now become even more important, the Indonesian State Minister of Environment said.
Minister Rachmat Witoelar made this remark after opening Better Air Quality 2006 (BAQ 2006), Asia’s largest gathering on the subject, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on 13 December 2006.
“We didn’t realize the value of clean air until it was lost,” he added. “We used to take it for granted. Now we have to work hard to win it back.”
He urged officials, researchers and activists from all over Asia to ‘put aside politics and bureaucracy’ to unite for Asia’s quest for cleaner air. “And we must also do away with euphemisms, and begin to call a spade a spade.”
BAQ 2006 has brought together over 900 representatives from industry, research, government and civil society groups committed to cleaner air in the world’s largest region. The event is coordinated and organized by the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia), a regional network promoting innovative ways to improve air quality of Asian cities through partnerships. It is hosted by the Ministry of Environment of Indonesia and the city of Yogyakarta.
|“We are winning some battles (for cleaner air), but not the war… We have not yet reached the tipping point.”
- Andrew Steer, World Bank Country Director in Indonesia
TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) is one of nearly two dozen international organizations and networks supporting the event. Others include the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations ESCAP, UNEP and the World Health Organisation.
It is our collective responsibility to identify and follow a sustainable path to economic development," said Bindu Lohani, Director General of ADB's Regional and Sustainable Development Department. "This must include new approaches to transport and mobility, stronger enforcement of air quality regulations coupled with innovative policies like emissions trading regimes, stricter fuel quality requirements, and tighter vehicle fuel efficiency standards, backed by strong political will to carry out the necessary reforms.
Lohani pointed out that some 44 million people are being added to the region’s cities each year – an average of 120,000 people every day. At that rate, there will be about 2 billion urban residents in Asia a decade from now.
"To accommodate these people, a huge amount of cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and other motorized vehicles is being added to our streets, their number doubling every 5 to 7 years. The ramifications of this for air quality are daunting," he said.
The human health toll from air pollution is more than half a million premature deaths annually in Asia, he said, with the poor suffering the most.
“Asia needs to review its air quality standards, and also address the capacity needs to achieve them.”
- Cornie Huizenga, Head of Secretariat, Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI Asia)
Andrew Steer, the World Bank’s Country Director in Indonesia, noted that Asian countries were making incremental progress in their quest for cleaner air. “We are winning some battles, but not the war… We have not yet reached the tipping point.”
When it comes to cleaning up Asia’s air, “we have a technical battle, political battle and also a moral battle ahead of us,” he added.
The need for political will was reiterated by Michal Krzyzanowski, head of WHO’s European Centre for Environment and Health, who delivered the opening keynote address.
Providing highlights of various studies that linked air pollution with ill health and premature death, he said: “We now know enough to act – we don’t have to wait for more.”
Addressing the inaugural press conference of BAQ 2006, Cornie Huizenga, who heads the CAI Asia Secretariat in Manila, noted that Asian countries already had many laws and regulations for cleaner air. He stressed the need for over-arching legislation to enable individual laws to perform better.
Asia needs to review its air quality standards, and also address the capacity needs to achieve them,” he said.
Dr Jitendra Shah, of the World Bank’s Southeast Asia office, pointed out the need to better ‘market’ the science and technology of cleaner air. “In the west, we are used to working mostly on the supply side. In Asia, we need to generate a demand for better air quality. Laws and regulations already exist in many countries, but we need to demand our public officials to better enforce them.”
The media plays a vital role in creating this public demand for better air quality, he said.
Since 2001, BAQ has become the most significant and relevant gathering for stakeholders involved with air quality management in Asia. At this year's event – the fifth to be held – over 900 participants converged from more than 35 countries, with a third coming from outside Asia.
In partnership with CAI Asia and ADB, TVE Asia Pacific organized a media capacity building workshop on clean air issues for a group of journalists from developing countries in Asia. The workshop, conducted on 11 and 12 December, was part of a wider media mentoring programme to enhance media coverage of air quality issues in the region.