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Air pollution worsening in Asian cities

HONG KONG — Air pollution has worsened markedly in Asian cities in recent years and presents a growing threat to human health, according to experts at a conference that began Wednesday.

Clean Air Asia, a regional network on air-quality management, aggregated data from more than 300 cities in 16 Asian countries and found that levels of fine particulate matter — a key pollutant in terms of its impact on human health — were below targets recommended by the World Health Organization in just 16 cities, most of them in Japan.

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Pollution levels in 70 percent of the cities, mostly in fast-growing, less developed countries like China, India, Bangladesh, and Mongolia, exceed even the most lenient of several targets recommended by the WHO, the organization said.

“The economic rebound in Asia following the global economic crisis of 2008 has accelerated sales of both passenger and freight vehicles as well as power generation,’’ Sophie Punte, Clean Air Asia’s executive director, said in a statement. This ‘‘is putting pressure on urban air quality in the region,’’ she said.

The number of people living in cities in developing Asian nations is expected to swell by 1.1 billion over the next 20 years, making urban air pollution a particularly relevant issue for the region.

A study by the World Health Organization published in 2008 estimated that outdoor air pollution caused 1.3 million premature deaths worldwide per year, 800,000 of them in Asia.

Similarly, a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this year warned that air pollution could become the biggest environmental cause of premature death by 2050 if action is not taken.

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