Peru’s ombudswomen assails government for Lima’s abysmal air pollution

Peru’s ombudswoman has warned the government that its policies for reducing urban air pollution failing to curb air contamination levels in the capital, Lima, that are up to nine times higher than standards set by the World Health Organization, or WHO.

“Air pollution kills and makes people sick in a slow and silent but persistent manner,” Beatriz Merino told reporters Tuesday during a news conference to present a report on the air pollution in Metropolitan Lima-Callao. “This is an irrefutable reality and we, the authorities that have evidence of its effects, must change it.”

The Ombudsman’s Office “is calling upon authorities, corporations, organizations and the population to contribute to reducing pollution, by taking into consideration that clean air is the essential condition to the right to life, health and an balanced environment that is suited to people’s developmental needs,” said Merino.

More than 1 million children aged 1 to 4 suffered from respiratory infections in 2007, Merino said, and so far this year, 480,144 new cases have been detected.

Particle pollution, which is composed of solid and liquid particles within the air that can be generated from vehicle emissions, road dust, construction activities, and metal processing, exceeded ninefold WHO standards in Lima’s downtown and sixfold in the populous northern districts of Comas, Independencia and Carabayllo.

Merino said that since the Ombudsman’s Office last published a similar report in 2006 — which contained 20 technical specifications for 20 measures to reduce the emissions of contaminants — Lima’s air quality has not improved and the government’s efforts do not represent a significant step forward.

Only two measures have been effectively adopted: the promulgation, by Congress, of a law creating the National Technical Vehicular Inspection System and the start-up of an equipment calibration service by Peru’s National Institute for the Defense of Competition and Protection of Intellectual Property’s, or Indecopi.

Air pollution in Lima, which is primarily due to the high number of old motorized vehicles and the oversupply of public transport vehicles, has been exacerbated over the past decade by a series of policies and measures that were adopted without due consideration for their impact on the environment or, specifically, air pollution and air quality. Attempts by various governmental agencies, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, and the Municipality of Lima, have been both insufficient and ineffective mainly because they have been isolated and palliative efforts.In her most recent report Merino urged the Municipality of Lima to enforce its Comprehensive Urban Transportation Plan to remove approximately 17,000 old heavily polluting diesel buses to “solve the oversupply of public transport that produces enormous quantities of contaminating gases.”

Bonuses ranging from $1000 to $3000 are offered to title-holders who turn in their antiquated vehicles to scrap yards.

But, according to Merino, the Municipality of Lima doesn’t allocate sufficient funds to pay the bonuses and will only be able to attend 7 percent of the demand.

Merino’s report also recommends that more incentives be given to drivers willing to convert their gasoline powered vehicles to run on Peru’s abundant supply of less expensive natural gas.  Other recommendations included that the National Police rotate its road traffic personnel and distribute air filtering face masks, and that Petroperu, the state-owned petroleum company, to reduce sulphur contents in its diesel fuel.

Health effects of air pollution include difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing and aggravation of existing cardiac and respiratory conditions, such as asthma. These effects, which can also cause subtle biochemical and physiological changes in a person’s body, can result in increased medication use, more hospital admissions and even premature death.

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