WHILE I was staying in Manila for a couple of days, I experienced it 24/7. Getting into a traffic jam is every driver's nightmare. Endless minutes (or worse: hours) in which nothing's moving forward can turn what should be a short car-ride into a seemingly never-ending odyssey. But congested streets aren't just annoying for commuters — they have far-reaching consequences.
But not only in Manila. Europe's environmental watchdog has warned that city dwellers in Europe are at risk of life-threatening air pollution. The report recommends EU countries take rapid action such as decreasing the number of cars in cities.
Poor air quality caused 412,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2016, the most recent year data is available, according to an EU report released on Wednesday. Meanwhile is it 2019.
Sixteen of the EU's 28 member states reported at least one case of unacceptable levels of nitrogen dioxide that surpass legal EU limits. Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain were all found to have unsafe levels of the gas that's among the major vehicle emissions.
The report recommends European countries reduce the number of cars to lower nitrogen dioxide levels — and therefore air pollution.
An air quality expert at the European Environmental Agency and author of the study, Alberto Gonzales Ortiz, warned that air pollution is "currently the most important environmental risk to human health."
The report referred to World Health Organization (WHO) figures that found heart disease and stroke were the most common reasons for premature death due to air pollution, followed by lung disease and lung cancer.
The study also found that certain groups including children, the elderly, pregnant women and people living close to roads and industrial areas were more vulnerable to its effects.
While the level of dangerous particles in European cities was dropping, Ortiz said it was not falling fast enough. In line with EU law, member states are required to examine the level of a range of pollutants and take action if pollutants, such as ozone matter, exceed healthy levels.
As we all know: cities across the whole world pledge air pollution changes, but are they ready? Over 30 mayors from across the globe have pledged to deliver clean air for the 140 million people living in their cities. Delivering clean air on such a scale will take both ambitious targets and concrete action. Believed to cause 7 million premature deaths every year, air pollution is increasingly recognized as a silent public health emergency.
Quoting British journalist Holly Young, "It's perhaps the most explicit illustration of how closely intertwined our health is to the state of our environment. Its particles have been found in human hearts and brains. It has been linked to asthma, Alzheimers, dementia, cancer, and stroke as well as mental health issues and miscarriage".
Despite its known damage, over 90% of people around the world still breathe dirty air. The Clean Air Cities Declaration announced at the World Mayors Summit this month in Copenhagen is a notable attempt to move the dial in tackling the issue. Held by C40, a network of over 90 cities dedicated to tackling climate change, 35 mayors and pledged to deliver clean air for the 140 million citizens in their cities.
The declaration highlights that the air pollution crisis is one "rooted in social injustice," due to the way it typically hits the poorest and most vulnerable communities hardest. According to WHO it is low- and middle-income countries that suffer the biggest burden from air pollution.
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