As the world celebrates Earth Day (22 April), we often need to remind ourselves that all journeys -- no matter how long and difficult -- always begin with simple steps.
In the case of the Philippines, the Ligtas Hangin ("save the air") campaign for 2010 is focused on getting "smoke belchers" out of Metro Manila's EDSA highway and other major roads. A smoke belcher is the term used for vehicles that do not meet the national emission standards. Ligtas Hangin is being spearheaded by the Partnership for Clean Air, CAI-Asia's country network in the Philippines.
Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue (EDSA for short) is the Metro Manila's main artery. It is approximately 24kms long, and it cuts across the length of city similar to New York's 5th Avenue or Hong Kong's Nathan Road. EDSA also has great historical significance and symbolism because it was the site of the 1986 People Power Revolution which gave democracy back to Filipinos after a 20-year dictatorship.
Unfortunately, due to increased motorization, EDSA is also heavily polluted with smoke belching buses, trucks, taxis and private vehicles.
The facts speak for themselves:
- Air pollution is responsible for nearly 5,000 deaths in Metro Manila each year. The nationwide cost of treatment is 962 million pesos annually. Yearly economic losses are even greater – 6.7 billion pesos.
- People who live within 500 meters from a major road are likely to be exposed to critical levels of air pollution, which implies that these neighborhoods are at a significantly greater risk of asthma, lung diseases, heart attacks, and cancer.
- Walking, biking or driving along these roads makes people more vulnerable to air pollution … and riding an air conditioned vehicle offers no protection.
Last week on 13 April, CAI-Asia, through PCA, gathered stakeholders from different organizations (such as homeowner associations, schools, and shopping malls) to draft a petition calling for the government to enforce the Clean Air Act of 1999 and take action to remove smoke belchers from EDSA and other main roads within Metro Manila. With support from the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the petition will be signed on 29 April. It will also be used to highlight the importance of clean air for the upcoming general elections in May 2010, calling for newly elected officials to do something in their first 100 days in office.
But the Ligtas Hangin campaign does not stop there. CAI-Asia would like to take it one step further.
November is clean air month in the Philippines. It is a time when government agencies and civil society groups coordinate activities to raise awareness about air pollution and its link to climate change. CAI-Asia would like to promote the idea of a "clean air month" in other Asian countries.
These are simple steps that make the journey worthwhile.
Happy Earth Day everyone!