Will We Ever Solve the Problem of Air Pollution in Our Cities
Long before some organizations began embossing their logos on face masks, and long before it became mandatory for people to wear masks, masks were like a necessary clothing accessory by people living in some cities in countries like Bangladesh, India, and China.
Authorities in some towns and cities in these countries frequently listed air pollution as an enemy, and millions of dwellers in these cities had to protect themselves from the harmful effects of this enemy by wearing masks.
Though the causes vary in different cities, some common themes run across.
Emission of fumes
It doesn’t help that some old vehicles leave blueish-dark fumes trailing them when they drove along the highways.
Away from the packed streets of Asia to some slums along the coastal belt of Africa, you’d find some human activities like the burning of tires to extract copper leading to significant emissions of toxic fumes.
In addition to the long-term health risks posed by these fumes, clean air becomes a precious commodity that is limited in supply. Sometimes these fumes create a cloud of smog in the atmosphere, and it takes hours, even days to clear up.
This compromises the air quality and makes breathing more difficult than it should be. And that is making no mention of the respiratory diseases that people contract over time. But residents have had to endure it, as the alternative would be to stop breathing altogether.
Locally undesirable land uses
The biggest culprit is the siting of landfill sites too close to homes. The offensive stench offends people, living up to the billing of an unwelcome neighbor.
Worse, where incineration is the primary way of treating the waste on these landfill sites, then the stench mixed with the smoke doubles the dose of misery for surrounding homes.
Beyond the incineration, the decomposing waste also gives off an uncomfortable stench. In some rural communities, public toilets are a real nuisance and interfere with the enjoyment of quality air.
Rising from untarred roads and borehole drilling operations, dust also adds another layer of complexity to finding clean air to breathe. Worse yet, the noise produced by the mining and manufacturing operations has muffled the cries of the people calling for cleaner air.
The dust makes breathing difficult and sometimes causes severe respiratory problems. It is a common practice in some areas for people to dampen dusty roads around their houses to clip the wings of dust and prevent it from flying around.
Slums and other informal housing areas lack adequate drainage facilities; sanitation is questionable in these areas, and waste management is a running joke.
The upshot is mountains of garbage sending an unbearable stench to the residents in the alleys down these valleys.
Again, because these areas lack a proper site layout, developments are mostly haphazard, meaning there is inadequate airflow to some buildings. Smoke from neighboring kitchens finds its way into neighbors’ bedrooms, and breathing clean air becomes a real challenge.
Even worse, the roads are too narrow to allow for air circulation within these areas. The quality of air enjoyed by these residents is anyone’s guess.
How can we enhance environmental air quality?
Tackle problems at the source
Whether it is air pollution from the constant burning of tires, burning of farmlands, the burning of refuse, or the stench from poor drainage, the first approach is to deal with the root causes.
Local and central government authorities can help reduce air pollution by tackling the problem at the source. They can start with enforcing environmental protection laws more strictly, for example. This will dictate where landfill sites are cited and how mining and manufacturing operations are carried out.
The challenges are unique to every city, and the solutions just as unique.
Greening our neighborhoods
Once we tackle these problems at the source, the next approach will be to wave the green magic of planting more trees in our cities and neighborhoods.
When communities come together to plant trees and green their neighborhoods, they will reap the benefits of improved air quality, as the leaves of the trees absorb some of the CO2 in the atmosphere.
Ensuring there are decent levels of environmental air quality in our cities is as difficult as it is beneficial.
Some of the causes of air pollution are linked to the survival of the people, cue industrialization, mining, and the burning of tires to extract copper. Striking a balance between economic sustainability and environmental protection becomes the biggest challenge.
But we can help with enforcing planning and environmental laws, and greening our communities.