Accessibility links

Breaking News

ENVIRONMENT REPORT - August 30, 2002: Asian Brown Cloud - 2002-08-23

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

A United Nations study says a thick cloud of pollution covering southern Asia threatens the lives of millions of people. Scientists say the pollution could increase lung diseases and cause early deaths. The cloud is also damaging agriculture and affecting rainfall levels.

Scientists are calling it the Asian Brown Cloud. It has affected Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The pollution cloud is three kilometers high. Scientists say it can move halfway around the world in a week.

The cloud is a mixture of ash, acids, aerosols and other particles. It is the result of forest fires, the burning of agricultural waste, and huge increases in the burning of fuels by vehicles, industries and power stations.

Pollution from millions of bad cooking stoves has made the problem worse. Many poor people burn fuels like wood and animal waste in such stoves.

Scientists say the cloud of pollution appears to cool the land and oceans by blocking sunlight. They say it reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface by as much as fifteen percent. At the same time, heat inside the cloud warms the lower parts of the atmosphere.

Scientists say this combination could be changing winter rainfall levels in Asia. They say rainfall has increased over the eastern coast of Asia. But it has dropped sharply over parts of northwestern Asia. The report says the cloud could reduce rainfall over northwestern Pakistan, Afghanistan and western China by up to forty percent.

Harmful chemicals from the cloud are mixing with rainfall. This acid rain damages crops and trees and threatens public health. Scientists are concerned that the pollution will intensify during the next thirty years as the population of Asia increases to an estimated five-thousand-million people.

Scientists say the Asian Brown Cloud could affect other parts of the world unless steps are taken to reduce pollution. Environmental groups say action is needed to find clean, renewable energy sources.

More than two-hundred scientists took part in the U-N study. The U-N Environment Program prepared the study for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. That meeting is taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa through September fourth.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.