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|Air pollution level
|Air quality index
| 164 US AQI
PM2.5 concentration in Bishkek is currently 16 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value
|Wednesday, Feb 28
Unhealthy 184 AQI US
|Thursday, Feb 29
Unhealthy 180 AQI US
|Friday, Mar 1
Unhealthy 168 AQI US
Unhealthy 164 AQI US
|Sunday, Mar 3
Good 34 AQI US
|Monday, Mar 4
Good 21 AQI US
|Tuesday, Mar 5
Good 18 AQI US
|Wednesday, Mar 6
Good 20 AQI US
|Thursday, Mar 7
Good 47 AQI US
|Friday, Mar 8
Moderate 61 AQI US
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Bishkek is the largest city and capital of Kyrgyzstan or the Kyrgyz Republic. It is very close to the border with the neighbouring country, Kazakhstan. In 2020 the population was an estimated 1,053,915. The total area covered by the city is 169.9 square kilometres.
In mid-December 2020 the reputable air quality monitoring site, IQAir.com released figures showing that the air quality in Bishkek city was “Very Unhealthy” with a US AQI reading of 234. The concentration of PM2.5 was recorded as 184 µg/m³. This classification follows the guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Earlier in the month the figures were much higher and put Bishkek in the “Hazardous” group.
In 2019 during the months of November and December, the air quality in Bishkek was classed as “Unhealthy” with figures between 55.5 and 150.4 µg/m³. For the 7 months from April up to and including October, the figures were a little better with figures of 12.1 -35.4 µg/m³ classifying the air as “Moderate”. For the months of February and March, the classification was “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” with figures between 35.5 – 55.4 µg/m³.
During the winter months, the main contributor to air pollution in Bishkek is dust. At this time of year, the concentration levels of PM2.5 and PM 10 are between 11 and 14 times the suggested permissible level according to the WHO. The burning of coal as a means of heating is also a main contender during the colder, winter months.
Other contributors are thermal power plants, construction industry, mining and processing industries, and from vehicle emissions. From the amount of data that is available in 2020, it is known that Bishkek is thought of as a highly polluted city.
Without doubt, it is getting worse. With the onset of winter, heat is required for both water and space. Coal is the fuel of choice because of its availability and reasonable price. However, it is the main source of the fine particulate matter of PM2.5 and PM10.
Traffic on the roads slow down because of the ice and snow and idling engines produce more concentrated levels of pollution as they are stationary for some time.
Even the construction industry must take some part of the blame. New high-rise buildings act as barriers which prevent the free flow of wind which would normally carry these pollutants out of the city.
The Town Hall has also had its share of criticism in making pollution worse. A road-widening scheme created a lot of dust and dirt and very often involved the chopping down of trees which had been growing at the edge of the old narrow roads.
The current administration is very much aware of the bad publicity it receives and is aware of the general feeling of dissatisfaction towards them. They allowed the Russian energy giant, Gazprom to make temporary settlements whose “residents” burn any organic material available which is most often wood and coal.
The administration is seen to be planting more trees than its predecessor even as it continues to widen roads and chop those trees down.
Some residents are investing in air purifiers or filters for their homes but report that they cannot work hard enough to get the air to a safer level. The outdoor readings of 500 µg/m³ can be brought down to 100 µg/m³ by the purifier but this is still too high a figure. Another resident reported as to how well he had slept after he started using his air purifier but soon commented that when he ventured outside, the smell of smoke was so much stronger that is had become unbearable.
Outdoor air pollution is a mixture of chemicals, particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), and biological materials that react with each other to form tiny hazardous particles. It contributes to breathing problems, chronic diseases, increased hospitalisation, and premature mortality.
The concentration of particulate matter (PM) is an important air quality indicator since it is the most common air pollutant that affects both short and long-term health. The fine PM2.5 particulates have a diameter of less than 2.5 microns (A micron is one-millionth of a metre), whilst the course PM10 particulates are slightly larger with a diameter of 10 microns. These are particularly dangerous because of their microscopic size they easily bypass the body’s natural defence mechanism and find their way deep into the lungs where they pass into the bloodstream.
The World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines recommend that the average annual concentrations of PM2.5 should not exceed 10 µg/m3 and 20 µg/m3 for PM10.
Short-term symptoms which result from exposure to air pollution include itchy eyes, nose and throat, coughing, wheezing and general shortness of breath. Chest pains, nausea and headaches can be experienced as can bronchitis and upper respiratory infections. It also exacerbates asthma attacks and emphysema. The long-term effects can include chronic respiratory illness, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. It can also lead to myocardial infarction and strokes.
During the first 2 months of 2020, a meeting was convened regarding air quality in Bishkek with the participation of representatives of the State Service for Environmental Protection and Forestry (SAEPF), ministries and agencies, as well as academics, the private sector and international organisations, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It was stated that the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 saw the worst possible levels of air pollution with figures of twice the “dangerous” level.
It was stated that coal burning is the main method of heat generation for both high-rise buildings and private ones, heating both water and space. Vehicle emissions were also the main source with a note made of diesel-powered vehicles being particularly bad.
It was suggested that by converting to natural gas, harmful emission could effectively be halved and considerable financial savings made, too.
More and more Bishkek residents are becoming aware as to how bad the air on their streets and even inside their apartments are. Many are hurrying to buy air purifiers. Because of new technology, information about poor air quality is available for anybody to access. And more and more monitors are being strategically placed in order to take measurements across the city. These figures are then centrally correlated and made available to the public.