Tue, Mar 04, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Totting up every breath you take

By David Roberts and Nick Riesland

Unfortunately, air-quality information, especially for the most pernicious fine particles, is not easily available in many highly polluted cities.

Such monitoring is not beyond the reach of developing countries, because the necessary equipment is not prohibitively expensive. Ideally, air-quality data should be collected, translated into easily understandable language and widely disseminated in real-time via social media so that city dwellers can take appropriate action — particularly for vulnerable individuals.

In this regard, China has made big strides, providing a good example for other developing countries to follow.

Of course, governments should not stop at monitoring; they should take measures to reduce air pollution. Against the pressure of Asia’s rapid urbanization and industrial development, this will take sustained effort, involving complex policy decisions and painful economic trade-offs.

Making air-quality information available to all — essentially democratizing the data — allows people to engage better in the debate on what sacrifices are acceptable in the fight against air pollution; it also provides basic input for desperately needed research into the health effects of these new highly polluted environments.

These far-reaching health effects, in addition to the immediate benefit of empowering citizens to protect themselves, should spur even the most financially strapped governments to start a transparent air-quality monitoring campaign today.

David Roberts, a physicist, is the former science adviser to the US ambassador to Japan. Nick Riesland is a physician with more than 20 years of international experience working on environmental health issues including air pollution.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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