By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
An international research group has pointed out that improvements in air quality must not be taken for granted after the lockdowns, as the return of air pollution may further threaten the human health during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Through the crisis, we have had a glimpse of what life can be like with more breathable air. But turning this into a daily reality can only be achieved by enforcing air quality standards and rapidly reducing fossil fuels in a sustained and sustainable way,” Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) analyst Isabella Suarez said.
She cited that Metro Manila had one of the most dramatic reductions in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in the ASEAN region.
“The clear skies (in the past weeks) were a result of a 40 percent reduction in nitrogen dioxide around Metro Manila, which clearly confirms that transportation is the huge source of smog and air pollution in the capital. It also enforces earlier research that it’s responsible for about 65 percent of poor air quality in the country,” she pointed out.
Suarez explained to the Manila Bulletin that the level of NO2 from March 1 to 14, 2020 or prior to the implementation of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was within the range of previous years.
“There is no significant drop or difference in NO2 between the two years and prior to ECQ,” she said, citing that pollution hotspots were around Quezon City, Manila, and San Juan City.
During the first two weeks of the ECQ, a significant drop of 60 percent in the NO2 level was observed, attributing it to the changes in urban activities as a result of the ECQ. Transportation is a major contributor, but the coal plants along the Manila Bay is also a factor too, she pointed out.
“The following four weeks also showed similarly reduced levels although NO2 levels picked up in certain areas around Manila and Quezon City. It has gone up a bit but still approximately 30 percent less than the 2019 levels,” Suarez said.
CREA said that the current improvements to air quality the ASEAN region are anomalies and “if left unchecked following the lockdowns, air pollution will return swiftly and the threats to human health and well-being linked to it will persist.”
“Long-term air pollution could only exacerbate a human’s risk to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, which has significant implications for the country’s health sector, currently under stress from dealing with the virus, Suarez said.
“The reduction in air pollution due to COVID-19 in no way mitigates the disease’s catastrophic impact on peoples’ lives and livelihoods across Asia. However, blue skies above our major cities point to what we can achieve if we invest in clean energy as the crisis abates,” she added.