This morning, I woke up at 4.30 in the morning struggling to breathe. It’s another attack of asthma.
My lungs don’t know – and won’t care – that yesterday, 1 May, was World Asthma Day. All my long-suffering lungs need is some fresh air.
But in the increasingly polluted — and right now, incredibly humid — Greater Colombo, I’m not likely to find it any time soon.
World Asthma Day is designed to increase awareness of asthma as a global health problem. Those who live with Asthma, and suffer on a daily or weekly basis, know what it’s all about.
I’m among the lucker ones. My asthma is well under control most of the time, but an inhalor is never far away. In fact, asthma is my personal indicator of how clean or polluted the air is in places I visit on my frequent travels.
I’ve had bad attacks in Beijing and Kathmandu. No surprises there. But at least in the latter city, which I’ll be revisiting soon, my lungs feel that the air quality has been getting better.
So there is some good news, even if we have to look hard and dig deep for it. That’s part of the job for us journalists — and in this instance, I readily declare my self interest: I want to breathe more easily!
Last year, TVE Asia Pacific conducted a regional media training workshop on covering air quality issues in Asia. That was part of the Better Air Quality 2006 event, a large gathering of everyone concerned with cleaner air issues. It was held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in mid December 2006. Read TVE Asia Pacific website coverage of BAQ 2006 and the media training workshop.
Political, scientific and industry leaders made lofty statements about the value of clean air. Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s environment minister, said clean air was more important for Asians than even rice, the staple food for most Asians.
Inspired by the week-long event, I wrote an op ed essay that month titled ‘Grappling with Asia’s Tsunami of the Air’. It has appeared online at several websites.
In that essay, I argued:
In the wake of the Asian Tsunami, some development and humanitarian groups used the phrase ‘silent tsunami’ to describe slowly unfolding emergencies that rarely attract much media coverage or global compassion. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made frequent, passionate references to the ‘daily tsunami of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental degradation.’
It’s easy to call Asia’s air pollution induced sickness and death another silent tsunami. Except that there is nothing silent about it: the lung-corroding, heart-threatening, cancer-causing and blood-poisoning pollutants are released with a thunderous roar from the region’s cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and other motorised vehicles. Anyone who has stood in a busy intersection in an Asian megacity knows exactly what I mean.
For the want of a phrase, we might call this Asia’s ‘tsunami of the air’.
And this tsunami is very much of our own making — let’s acknowledge that we are all part of the problem, some more than others. It makes us culpable for what India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) once termed ‘slow murder’ by dirty air.
Images courtesy TVE Asia Pacific