The grey continent

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If there is one single factor which binds most Asian cities together, it is pollution. According to Emerging Asia: Changes and Challenges , an Asian Development Bank publication and Toward an Environmental Strategy for Asia , a World Bank discussion paper, environmental sacrilege across Asia is widespread and the region has to contend with many damaging epithets to its credit, significant among them being: it is the world's most polluted and environmentally degraded region; 10 of Asia's 11 mega cities exceed World Health Organization's (who) guidelines on particulate matter by a factor of at least three, four exceed acceptable lead levels and three exceed acceptable ozone and sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels. Further, out of 15 dirty cities in the world, according to a study conducted by the WHO and the United Nations Development Programme (undp) as far back as 1987, 13 belonged to Asia itself.

Statistics is only one part of the story. The grime combined with apathetic governments and poverty in certain parts of Asia and the craze to rapidly industrialise makes for an epic by itself. Environment mostly figures way down the list of official priorities in most Asian countries. The message has always been "grow now, clean up later'. Little was it realised that the absence of a