|1||Makati, National Capital Region|
|2||Paranaque, National Capital Region|
|3||Mandaluyong, National Capital Region|
|4||Taguig, National Capital Region|
|6||Olongapo, Central Luzon|
|7||Marikina, National Capital Region|
|8||Quezon City, National Capital Region|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
|1||Meycauayan, Central Luzon|
|3||Balanga, Central Luzon|
|5||Davao City, Davao|
|6||San Juan, National Capital Region|
|9||Marikina, National Capital Region|
|10||Quezon City, National Capital Region|
(local time)SEE WORLD AQI RANKING
The Philippines is an archipelagic state in Southeast Asia. It consists of over7,500 islands which can be regarded as being in three separate areas, Luzon, Visayas andMindanao. The capital city is Manila which is located in the northern area ofLuzon. A survey conducted in 2020 estimated the population to be in excess of109 million people. In December 2020 the air quality index AQI for Manilarecorded levels of 91 US AQI which classifies it as “Moderate” according to theWorld Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendations. The main pollutant beingPM2.5 with a concentration of 31.2 µg/m³.
In 2019 Philippines was ranked as being 57 out of 98 countries, with an average USAQI reading of 63 and an average PM2.5 reading of 17.6 µg/m³.
The population of Manila has grown at an alarming rate since 1970, faster than anyother city. It is estimated that the density of people is roughly 12,600 persquare kilometre. Thousands live in poor quality housing in the shadow ofindustrial plants or power stations. Smog is almost constantly hanging over thecity, exacerbated by the 2.2 million vehicles that clog the streets on a dailybasis. According to reports published by the World Health Organisation (WHO),levels of airborne particles of lead (Pb) are three times than the acceptablefigure. Concentrations of PM2.5 have also found to be unacceptably high, too.
Before the COVID 19 pandemic, there were some rainy days in Manila when a thick hazewould envelop the city totally obscuring the city skyline. Because this was socommonplace, many Philippinos accepted it as the norm. At the start of lockdown, due to the reductionin traffic and industries working, the air quality began to improve due to thelack of emissions. Many residents were reminded just how close the city is tothe majestic Sierra Madre range of mountains which was now visible from thecity centre due to the lack of haze hanging over the city.
Residentstook to social media to spread photographs of sunsets over the city using theSierra Madre as a dramatic backdrop. By following the lead set by other countries in trying to contain the spread ofCOVID 19, the Philippine government inadvertently improved the air quality inMetro Manila within a fortnight.
Following the publication of a report conducted by the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (IESM), it was seen that thelevels of fine particulate matter or PM2.5 decreased by 40 per cent whencompared to levels recorded in January before the enhanced communityquarantine, or ECQ commenced in March. These figures were taken frominstruments at the ground-level monitoring station in Quezon City, in thenorthern part of Metro Manila.
Data showed PM2.5 levels had fallen to 7.1 µg/m³ during the first week of thelockdown, much lower than the 20 µg/m³ recorded two weeks earlier and below the World Health Organisation’srecommended safety guideline of 10 µg/m³.
Similar findings were reported by other monitoring organisations, too. For example, CleanAir Asia, which started monitoring air pollution in the capital earlier thisyear, recorded a 51% to 71% decrease in PM2.5 levels in three areas of Manilafor the last week of April when compared to the period before the lockdown.
According to figures from 2016, 80 per cent of the country’s air pollution comes frommotor vehicles whilst the remaining 20 per cent comes from stationary sources,such as factories and the open burning of organic matter. Another contributoryfactor is the weather.
Satellite data showed a significant drop in the pollution levels both in Metro Manila andits neighbouring province of Bulacan for the second half of March. Whichcoincided with the start of the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) in Luzoncity. These figures were compared to the comparable timescale from previousyears. However, some areas reported an increase in levels due to burningorganic waste.
A notable scientist who measures air pollution using the aerosol optical depth(AOD), reports that whilst these pieces of apparatus are very good at measuringparticle such as dust, smoke and pollution in the air, they are only able to doso at a relatively “local” level, whereas satellite data can record the qualityof air over the entire Philippine archipelago.
It was noted that the improvement in air quality was evident when comparingsatellite AOD information with figures measured over the same period of time inprevious years. Because the seasons affect the air quality it was noted thatsummer started toward the end of March which corresponded to the start oflockdown. The first half of April was affected by a haze which was driftingover from Indonesia where they were burning biomass.
Proposals have been put forward to phase out the use of leaded gasoline, reduceindustrial emissions through filtration, encourage recycling and outlawvehicles older than 15 years and ban bonfires where garbage is incinerated.With an average speed of just 7 kilometres per hour, the rush-hour traffic inMetro Manila moves more slowly than anywhere else in Southeast Asia. There iscurrently an overhead rail system but presently only covers a 30-kilometretrack. Investing in the expansion of this system would help reduce the numberof vehicle on the roads.
It was stated that residents should not rejoice about the better quality air overthe lockdown period as it increases again as soon as it came to an end. Theywere also reminded that once carbon dioxide (CO2) is released, ithas the ability to remain for the next century. So a few relatively “clean”months will have no effect in the long run.
Air pollution can be defined as the alteration of air quality that can becharacterised by measurements of physical or biological elements in the air.The undesirable presence of these particles can fall into 2 categories, visibleand invisible. Air pollution use usually attributed to human activity, but it canbe caused naturally on some occasions, such as wildfires, volcanic eruption anddust storms.
Air pollution has long been seen as a problem in the Philippines. In 2018, a studyby the World Health Organisation reported that there were 45.3 airpollution-related deaths for every 100,000 people in the Philippines. This wasthe third-highest in the world, after China’s 81.5 pollution-related deaths andMongolia’s 48.8 deaths per 100,000 people.
The two areas recording the highest levels of pollution in the Philippines are Meycauayan,in Central Luzon with a recorded figure of 100 US AQI and Bulacan, again inCentral Luzon with a figure of 138 US AQI.
The Special Report on Managing Air Quality Beyond COVID-19 revealed that pollutionlevels in Metro Manila have been steadily increasing since the lockdownfinished in May 2020. Industries restarted producing goods again and motoristsbegan commuting again. The report went on to study the two main airbornepollutants found in Manila’s air, namely nitrogen dioxide (NO2) andPM 2.5 particulate matter, both of which are produced from the emissions givenoff by the burning fossil fuels. The lockdown in Manila started on the 15thMarch and ended on the 15th May 2020. A study of these twopollutants between these dates showed a dramatic drop in their levels at thestart of lockdown. As is to be expected, once lockdown was relaxed and Manilaentered a state of general community quarantine (GCQ) on 1st June,the smog began to return to the skies above Manila.
This post-lockdown report closely examined the air quality in seven major areaswithin the Metro Manila metropolis. This was done to prove that the reductionin pollutants was not localised and dramatically fell throughout the whole ofMetro Manila. Although the overall quality of Manila’s air is better than itwas two decades ago, it underlines the reliance the city has on fossil fuelsacross the entire spectrum.
A post-COCID 19 report recommends recovery options that give priority to clean,sustainable fuels and green transportation systems. To enhance micro-mobilityaround local areas and to keep air pollution at manageable levels, wherepossible.
A little-known fact is that air pollution can have a direct effect on a country’sGDP. A figure of between 0.8-1.9 per cent is lost due to air pollution. This isbecause when people get sick because of the poor quality air, they do not go towork.
It has been recognised by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources(DENR) that air pollution levels have become higher when compared to acceptablelevels recommended by the WHO. Thispresents a problem to the millions of Philippinos who regularly commute on adaily basis. Every day they are exposed to the noxious range of chemicalsproduced by the range of automobiles encountered throughout the city. Most ofthe vehicles here are older ones which often have not been fitted with devicesthat can help reduce the harmful emissions. A major contributor to Manila’s airpollution, are the dark-coloured fumes that are emitted from jeepneys. (A Jeepney is thePhilippines’ most popular mean of public transport, extremely cheap and used bymost of the locals). Most jeepneys use diesel as a fuel which can be a greatsource of pollution if not correctly maintained and serviced regularly. It isnotorious for producing carcinogens, black carbon (BC) and nitrogen oxide (NOx). It has also been recognized from a worldwide perspectivethat 2 million cars in the Philippines cause over 80% of the air pollution.
A paediatrician from the medical centre in Makati said that 90 per cent of hispatients suffer from some sort of respiratory illness and some babies at a mere2 months old are seen to be suffering from asthma. A recent survey undertakenby the Philippine Paediatric Society asked doctors what the most common diseasetheir patients were suffering from was. The unanimous answer was: diseases ofthe upper respiratory tract.
Urine samples were taken from children who live and beg on Manila’s congestedstreets, and they were found to have very high levels of lead in theirbloodstream. Due mainly to their close proximity to vehicle exhaust fumes.
Many middle-class citizens who are aware of this problem choose to keep theirchildren indoors and try to clean the air using filtered air conditioners andionisers, but this resulted in other problems due to the total lack ofexercise.
Following the release of a WHO report on Urban Air Pollution in Megacities throughout theworld, they stated that over the next decade the concentration levels of airpollution would rise between 75 and 100 per cent to the figures currentlyrecorded.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM2.5 are linked to severe respiratory and cardiovascular health diseases and exposureto high levels of these pollutants affects the body’s natural defences againstairborne viruses and increases vulnerability to COVID-19. Other pollutants suchas black carbon (BC) and methane (CH4) accelerate glacial melt due toglobal warming. Air pollution poses a threat to water and food systems byreducing sunlight reaching the leaves and thus preventing photosynthesis. Theycan also change the intensity and trajectory of storms such as monsoons whichcan have a large impact on food producers.
PM2.5 and PM10 refer to particulate matter that has a diameter of less than 2.5micrometres and 10 micrometres, respectively. These are two types of pollutantsthat are measured by air monitoring stations located around the cities. Both aredetrimental to health, but PM2.5 is more dangerous, according to statistics, becauseits small size allows it to reach deep inside the lungs. PM2.5 has been linkedto cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and can easily trigger an asthmaattack in those affected by poor quality air.
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