JAKARTA — The sight of commuters, their faces hidden behind masks, zipping around on the back of motorcycle taxis is common across Asia. The bikes weave through gridlock in cities like Jakarta and Bangkok, getting the passengers to work on time. The masks, sometimes worn by both driver and passenger, hint that the air they breathe might not be the cleanest. Judging from World Health Organization figures released on Wednesday, covering 4,300 cities across 108 countries, the commuters have the right idea. Of an estimated 7 million deaths worldwide per year from air pollution, just over two-thirds take place in Asia, which is home to slightly less than 60% of the global population. Breaking the numbers down further, the 10 countries in the WHO’s “South-east Asia” region account for about a quarter of the world’s population but suffer around 2.4 million, or 34%, of all air pollution deaths.
SINGAPORE — As Southeast Asia struggles with the rise of modern illnesses that have blighted Western societies such as heart disease and diabetes, a combination of government appeals and changing lifestyle choices suggests a growing awareness of the causes of such conditions. In an Aug. 20 national day speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore recommended that citizens cut back on sugar consumption — flagging-up the soft drinks that are popular among thirsty pedestrians cooling down after a walk in the city-state’s often stifling heat. “Just one can of soft drink can contain eight cubes of sugar,” Lee said. “That’s more than you need for one whole day.”=
PHNOM PENH — The skyline of Phnom Penh is changing as fast as that of any Asian city. Yellow cranes gleam in the sun after late-afternoon squalls, towering alongside green-netted scaffolding wrapped around dozens of new high-rise apartment blocks going up across the city. These are, literally, the green shoots of a building boom that made up a sixth of Cambodia’s economic growth last year. They are a sign of a transformation underway in the capital as Cambodia tries to catch up with its more prosperous neighbors. But the rapid changes also highlight a challenge that has faced many cities across Asia in recent decades: with 200 million people having moved from countryside to city in East and Southeast Asia since 2010, how can cities manage large-scale urban growth in a way that facilitates economic growth without increasing pollution and traffic jams. In BKK1, an upmarket part of the city, “the roads are too narrow, the area is not ready for so much construction, many small builders don’t talk to the municipality, there is no coordination,” said Sebastian Uy, co-owner of real estate agency Le Grand Mekong Property.
SINGAPORE — More than 300 people have been diagnosed with the Zika virus in Singapore this year, while the figure for Thailand has reached 200. Though the numbers of Zika cases in other Asian countries remain in the single digits, outbreaks in these two trade and tourism hubs could take a heavy economic toll. Such impacts are already being felt in Latin America. The spread of Zika there has resulted in around 1,800 cases of microcephaly, and the World Bank estimates that Zika could result in losses of around $3.5 billion to Latin American economies, or 1% of gross domestic product in tourism-dependent ones. In Asia, the main impact is likely to be felt in Singapore, which will host a Formula One Grand Prix race from Sept. 16-18. The event attracts not only regional motor sports fans but also corporate guests attending business meetings during the race week. The current Zika outbreak is the first ever in the city-state. Though it has not sparked any panic yet, the rapid spread of infection has reminded many residents of the SARS crisis of 2003, which saw economic activity contract 4.2% in the second quarter of that year. China, Singapore’s biggest source of tourists, issued an alert on Sept. 7 urging visitors to Zika-affected countries to take precautions against mosquito bites.
SINGAPORE – With “Western-style” ailments such as obesity and diabetes on the increase in Asia, health-related businesses are ramping up their efforts to keep those diseases at bay. Asia’s spending on health care has been soaring. By 2017, the region’s expenditure will reach $2.1 trillion, 24% of the global total, according to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit. “As incomes rise, education levels also improve, creating much greater awareness of health issues,” the report said. But as Asians earn more, they are becoming not only better educated but also more susceptible to so-called “lifestyle” diseases — afflictions the World Health Organization classes as “noncommunicable” and “chronic.” Chronic maladies such as heart disease and diabetes are the No. 1 killers in Southeast Asia, accounting for 62% of all deaths, according to the WHO. Growing Asian affluence and the spread of fast-food chains have led to increasingly unhealthy eating habits, as foods high in fat, salt and sugar are consumed in greater amounts. This, in turn, has caused a spike in conditions previously more common in Western countries. Malaysia-based IHH Healthcare is among the hospital operators responding to the region’s growing medical needs. “Rapid growth, rapid rise in affluence and the development of the middle income group, these are all very favorable factors for the health care industry,” said Tan See Leng, IHH’s managing director and CEO, speaking at the FT-Nikkei Asia300 Forum in Hong Kong on April 25.