It’s Getting Harder to Breathe! Economic Growth Affects Quality of Life in Asia

Written by Vandana Mohanchandran

As 200 countries came together in Paris for the 2015 Climate Change Summit, it raised several prevailing issues on stabilizing global warming as well as reducing industrial pollution in Asia. Levels of industrial pollution, smog, and haze have been consistently affecting several major outsourcing destinations in the region over the last few years. Pollution and its effects are becoming alarming issues, and it is increasingly important to monitor and understand the related risks to quality of life in these locations.

In this blog, we cover some of the most severe pollution conditions in several outsourcing hubs in Asia, and the alarming effect on quality of life.

Pollution Effects on Major Outsourcing Countries of Asia


China has seen extraordinary economic growth in recent years and is on a trajectory to become the world’s largest economy by 2020. However, as a consequence of this rapid growth, some of China’s major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have seen extreme increases in the levels of pollution, especially in the winter. Over the years, it has been documented by Beijing’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention that Beijing’s 21-million residents live in a city surrounded by harmful contaminants and particulate matter. When the city’s pollution levels reach hazardous levels, schools and workplaces are shut down. On December 7, 2015, Beijing issued its first Red Alert for smog and pollution indicating that the levels had exceeded 40 times more than hazardous levels, according to the World Health Organization.

In March 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared war on pollution in response to China’s ongoing environmental crisis. The government plans to create campaigns and build upon several years of pollution initiatives such as the 12th Five-Year Plan and the Action Plan on Prevention and Control of Air Pollution.


The haze levels in India are considered one the biggest killers, following poor nutrition and hypertension, according to the Health Effects Institute. In 2010, outdoor air pollution caused over 620,000 premature deaths in India. This is due to the diseases brought about by high levels of pollution, such as cardiovascular diseases leading to heart attacks and strokes, respiratory infections, and lung cancer. The capital, New Delhi, is expected to have the world’s highest number of premature deaths due to air pollution by 2025 with nearly 32,000 fatalities, according to a study by Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. The New Delhi Government has taken various initiatives to control the rising levels such as by imposing fines on emitters and several other measures to control traffic in the city.


Indonesia is the largest producer and exporter of palm oil in the world, and the plantation and processing industries account for a large portion of the country’s economic activity. However, the related agricultural practices are the main culprits of air pollution. Farmers burn tens of thousands of hectares of forests and peatlands to clear the land for new palm-oil plantations each year, leading to dangerous levels of smoke across the country. This year, the impact of these forest fires have been more severe due to the ongoing draught.

These man-made disasters have negatively impacted quality of life throughout Indonesia and surrounding countries. Several thousands of people suffer from respiratory ailments because of the smoke. Sumatra and Kalimantan are the worst affected parts where ten people have died from haze-related illnesses and more than 500,000 cases of acute respiratory tract infections have been reported since July 2015. Additionally, these fires across Indonesia are responsible for a lot of the respiratory infections in parts of Malaysia and Singapore.


Despite the efforts of the Philippine government to improve the quality of the air in the country, air pollution is still a serious danger to its citizens. Metro Manila and other main cities like Cebu and Quezon are considered urban areas that are highly exposed to soot. Automobiles are seen to be the main perpetrator due to the use of diesel fuels, which emits toxic substances such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and sulfur. All of these are toxic air contaminants associated with lung cancer.

Quality of life is an important risk factor to consider when choosing a suitable location for your outsourcing operations. Although the governments of most Asian nations are making reforms to reduce levels of pollutions, there are more direct courses of action available to you if you have operations in this region and are interested in making a difference. You can ask your suppliers to ensure a healthy environment for their employees by making sure that air cleaners and filters are provided within the business premises to keep the indoor air clean. Employees could also be provided with dust-masks which could help reduce exposure to pollutant particles and contaminants. Provision of shared office cabs for everyday commute would help reduce the volume of vehicles on the road. Employees can be encouraged to carpool and workshops should be conducted to educate employees on good practices and efficient fuel management.

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