Action to curb urban pollution

The scourge of urban pollution. (Picture City Metric)

Problems caused by air pollution in selected Commonwealth cities with populations of over 10 million  – Dhaka, Delhi, Gauteng or Greater Johannesburg, and Lagos – are being examined at a conference in London, bringing together civic and state leaders, scientists and other experts, to share political and technical strategies.

It is being organised by the Ramphal Institute, a research and advocacy body named for Sir Shridath Ramphal, which focuses on development issues in the Commonwealth, and it is sponsored by Elsevier, the science journals and conference business. Although smaller than the other four, London is being treated as an honorary Megacity

Air pollution is a massive public health problem, nowhere more so than in Megacities throughout Asia and Africa. According to WHO, it is responsible for seven million deaths annually, more than are caused by smoking. The seven most-polluted cities in the world in terms of small particulates are all located in India. The WHO limit for small particulates is 10 µg/m3 of air. There are more than 180 cities in the world with levels above 50, and the mean annual level in Delhi is 143 with peaks up to 1000 during winter months.

Medical data also show a host of adverse effects that span all stages of human development. Air pollution causes reduced birth weight which is associated with a lower IQ. Such data indicates that highly polluted cities are unfit for human habitation, and are particularly dangerous for pregnant women.

Organisers say that in contrast to the right to a clean water supply, the right to breathe clean air has never been enshrined in a UN convention. There is scope for a Commonwealth campaign at an international level to promote a right to clean air.  It is hoped that the conference may lead to a wide-ranging coalition, which can co-ordinate concerted action between citizen groups, medical experts, legislatures and politicians.