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Asian Brown Cloud

2002-8-29

This is the VOA SpecialEnglish ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

A United Nations study says a thick cloud of pollution coveringsouthern Asia threatens the lives of millions of people. Scientistssay the pollution could increase lung diseases and cause earlydeaths. The cloud is also damaging agriculture and affectingrainfall levels.

Scientists are calling it the Asian Brown Cloud. It has affectedAfghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistanand 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 otherparticles. It is the result of forest fires, the burning ofagricultural waste, and huge increases in the burning of fuels byvehicles, industries and power stations.

Pollution from millions of bad cooking stoves has made theproblem worse. Many poor people burn fuels like wood and animalwaste in such stoves.

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

Scientists say this combination could be changing winter rainfalllevels in Asia. They say rainfall has increased over the easterncoast of Asia. But it has dropped sharply over parts of northwesternAsia. The report says the cloud could reduce rainfall overnorthwestern Pakistan, Afghanistan and western China by up to fortypercent.

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

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

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

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written byCynthia Kirk.