United Nations Environment Programme

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Tool 4: Health impacts in some cities

The impacts of vehicle emissions are most visible in cities. With more vehicles polluting the air, higher density populations exposed to the poor air quality, and buildings that prevent the dissipation of emissions, these impacts are greatly compounded.

  • Cities in the US, the EU and Japan have very tough regulations on vehicle emissions yet still suffer from air quality problems, due to the enormous volumes of traffic.
  • Cities in the developing world that have far less traffic still experience substantial problems, due to factors such as: less stringent (or absent) emissions regulations; higher numbers of older and poorly maintained vehicles; congested driving conditions; and poor fuel quality.
  • The most severe air quality is typically found in quickly developing cities – such as Beijing, Bangkok, Mexico City and Jakarta – where economic growth drives transport growth, but stricter emissions regulations have not yet been put in place. 

Below you will find some examples of estimated health impacts of vehicle emissions from cities around the world.

Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia and has a population of approximately 10.9 million. The air quality is poor, with an annual average suspended particulate matter (SPM) concentration of 103 mg/m3 (compared to the recommended 50 mg/m3 in the EU). Furthermore, in 2000, Jakarta was still using leaded petrol. Below is an estimate of health impacts from poor air quality in Jakarta.

Table 1: Health Effects in Jakarta

People Affected by:

Particulate matter


Premature Mortality

1 000


Respiratory Symptoms

29 000 000


Lower Respiratory Illness

95 000


Asthma Attacks

427 000


Chronic Bronchitis

9 700




380 000

Non-fatal Heart Attacks



IQ Decrement


4 000 000

Respiratory Hospital Admissions

1 900


Emergency Room Visits

37 000


Restricted Activity Days

5 900 000


Sources: Ostro (1994) and Resosudamo (1996) presented in the Integrated Vehicle Emission Strategy Workshop October 16-18, 2001, Jakarta, Indonesia

Santiago, the capital of Chile, has a population of 4.4 million. Its measured annual PM concentration is estimated to be approximately 113 mg/m3.

Table 2: Health Effects in Santiago
People affected by particulate matter
Premature mortality: 4 900
Respiratory hospital admission: 4 300
Emergency room visits 84 000
Restricted adult activity days: 12 000 000
Acute bronchitis in children: 200 000
Asthma exarbation 10 000 000
Respiratory symptoms: 65 000 000
Chronic bronchitis: 13 000

Source: UNEP AQM tool book. Numbers have a margin of +/- >50%

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Its population is approximately 4.7 million, and it has an annual PM concentration of about 174 mg/m3.

Table 3: Health Effects in Dhaka
People affected by particulate matter
Premature deaths 10 350
Chronic bronchitis 74 000
Restricted activity days 70 000 000
Respiratory hospital diseases 14 000
Emergency room visits 286 000
Asthma attacks and 2 800 000
Respiratory symptom days 220 000 000
Source: An Economic Evaluation of Air Pollution in Dhaka City A.K. Azad, J. Sultana and S. Jahan; p.83-87, International Conference on Chemical Engineering 2003, Dept. of Chemical Eng., BUET, Dhaka, Bangladesh