Via The Guardian: Clouds of filth envelope Asian cities: 'you can't escape'. Excerpt:
The winter air in Tehran is often foul but for six days last week it was hardly breathable. A dense and poisonous chemical smog made up of traffic and factory fumes, mixed with construction dust, burning vegetation and waste has shrouded buildings, choked pedestrians, forced schools and universities to close, and filled the hospitals.
Anyone who could flee the Iranian mega-city of 15 million people has done so, but, say the authorities, in the past two weeks more than 400 people have died as a direct result of the pollution, known as the Asian “brown cloud”.
Tehran is far from alone. A combination of atmospheric conditions, geography and the start of the winter heating season regularly traps urban air pollution from October to February across a great swath of Asia. But this year has seen some of the worst smog episodes in nearly 20 years despite cities trying to reduce traffic and factory emissions.
As temperatures drop and people turn to burning waste to keep warm, pollution levels have been 15 to 20 times the World Health Organisation safe levels in three Indian cities – Delhi, Varanasi and Lucknow. Traffic has been banned and construction projects had to be stopped in Beijing as a dense layer of filthy air descended on northern China.
In Kathmandu, in Nepal, and Kabul, Afghanistan, where pollution is regularly trapped in the cities’ valleys, the hospitals have been stretched with people suffering respiratory and cardiac illnesses.
“It is a dreadful situation,” said one Tehrani resident, who asked not to be identified. “You see a lot of elderly people in trouble. People get confused. You get worried about the children. People do not know if schools are going to open. People want to leave but they cannot. The worst thing is you can’t escape or do anything about it.”
The number of cars has trebled in Tehran and many other burgeoning Asian cities in the past 10 years. The authorities know that outrage is growing at the cloud of filth that settles over the region in winter, but they appear politically paralysed.