Challenges That Continue To Embattle Asia

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The Continent Of Asia: Part 1

In this two part series, we cover the massive and diverse continent of Asia. Part 1 reviews the challenge areas that exist, Part 2 will discuss the areas of positive development and opportunity.

Asia as a continent has been making significant strides in many areas of development. The continent’s surge to global power has been remarkable with the likes of China and India developing exponentially. Yet behind all this glow are deep challenges with which the continent is still grappling. Many of these difficulties are endemic and hard to resolve. The following points of focus are general in nature to the continent and not in any way deemed to be absolute truth to the continent as a whole.

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Lack of government transparency, intense corruption

China’s president Xi Jinping has made great success in eliminating corruption from China in his dedicated war against high-class corruption. This of course deserves commendations. But the same can’t be said of other Asian countries. India particularly is plagued with corruption. According to figures from Transparency International (TI), and as reported in Forbes India is the most corrupt country in Asia (with a corruption percentage of 69%). According to these figures, over 60% of security operatives in India have taken bribes while over 37% of land deals had been facilitated with bribes. Pakistan comes fourth after India with a bribery rate of 40%, with Vietnam coming second after India with a bribery rate of 65%.

Intense poverty, income inequality

Asia is not famous for poverty, but deep inside the continent, it exists. Poverty and income inequality rage through Asia down to the Pacific. Over 60% of the total world population is domiciled in Asia while the continent also boasts 40% of the planet’s gross domestic product. But this doesn’t cloud the inconsistencies and low standards of living that threatens large swathes of the interior Asian population.By 2013, about 400 million people in Asia which amounted to over 10% of the total population of the continent were living in extreme positivity. A World Bank report by 2016 revealed that over 760 million people live below 1.9USD every day. Of this population, about 33% were found in South Asia while another 9% were located in East Asia.

Tacloban, Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan struck in 2013. Author

Natural disaster management

Asia particularly has felt the brunt of natural disasters. According to one report, more than 2,200 natural disasters have struck Asia in the past 20 years, claiming close to one million lives. With such a large population living in the region, when a natural disaster strikes, the humanitarian consequences are catastrophic. Highly notorious was the historic earthquake that devastated South Nepal back in 2015 claiming more than 8,000 lives with an unimaginable level of destruction. Typhoon Haiyan which ravaged the Philippines four years ago additional disasters included Japan’s 2011 earthquake/tsunami (20,000 deaths), the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (more than 200,000 deaths), Myanmar’s 2008 Cyclone Nargis (140,000 deaths), Bangldesh’s Cyclone Gorky in 1991 (140,000 deaths), China’s 2008 earthquake (90,000 deaths), and Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake (75,000 deaths). A report from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) revealed that of the 226 natural disasters that occurred in 2013 all over the planet, over half of this number happened in Asia and the Pacific region.

The majority of the nations suffering these disasters lack the emergency-response infrastructure to ameliorate the situation and reduce the impact. Structural resilience in terms of disaster-combat facilities is largely lacking in these nations allowing these disasters to have their fill of casualties.

Manila Bay, Philippines. Author: Shubert Ciencia


By far, the world’s cities with the worst pollution are located in Asia. In fact, of the 100 most polluted cities in the world, a whopping 96 are in Asia. India has 33 of the world’s most polluted cities, with China having 28, Saudi Arabia with six, Myanmar with five, Bangladesh with five and Pakistan with four.

Pollution obvious affects the water supply of the region as well. With the rapid population growth from around the region, potable water supplies have either disappeared or become so polluted that to even be around the water is a danger to human health. A recent article by the Wall Street Journal spoke specifically about India’s Yamuna River. This body of water, which begins in the Himalayas, stretches for 855 miles and runs through major population centers like, Delhi. By the time the Yamuna exits Delhi, the sludge is so defiled by industrial chemicals, floating plastic and human waste that scientists have declared the next 300 miles “eutrophic,” or incapable of sustaining animal life. For every 100 milliliters of the Yamuna in Delhi, there are 22 million fecal coliform bacteria, which is up from 12,250 since just 1988. For reference, anything over 500 is unsafe for bathing (which all too many of Delhi’s population do along the banks of the Yamuna). The comparable standard in Vermont is 235. According to the Wall Street Journal article, illnesses caused from this polluted water range from diarrhea to brain worms.

Shanghai, China

Not only is water polluted in many places in Asia, air quality has also suffered. The four major gases associated with air pollution are ammonia, formic acid, methanol, and ozone. According to an article put out by publication Science, Karachi, Pakistan, holds the world’s title for ozone.  Where it regards ammonia, a gas that can trigger lung disease, Kolkata, India, exceeds the “harmful” threshold 47.1% of the time, Dhaka, Bangladesh, exceeds it 51.6% of the time, and Delhi exceeds it 73.5% of the time.

Image from Science:

These are just some of the challenges with which the continent Asia struggles. While the above may seem quite desperate, there are many reasons to be optimistic. In next week’s article, we will talk about the areas where one can be hopeful for Asia, whether that be in politics or renewable energy.

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