World Meteorological Organization: air pollution severe in South American cities like Lima

Alarming levels of air pollution have been detected in South American cities such as Lima, Santiago and Bogotá, according to the World Meteorological Organization — the official United Nations’ authoritative voice on weather, climate and water.

“Particle suspension in the air is an important problem in big cities,” said World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, scientist Liisa Jalkanen. “In Asia, cities like Karachi, New Delhi, Kathmandu, Shanghai, Beijing and Bombay all exceed the set limits for particle suspension in the air.”

As megacities such as Peru’s capital, Lima, grow and spread, urban pollution is affecting more and more people throughout the world. About half the global population lives in large cities, many of which lack any form of air-quality monitoring, especially in developing countries.

In an effort to correct the situation, “the WMO has been actively involved in international efforts to assess our evolving atmosphere in terms of air pollutants such as ground-level ozone, smog, particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide and dioxide, most of which have directly resulted from the industrial, urban and vehicular combustion of fossil fuels,” said WMO Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud.

Air pollution in Lima, which is primarily due to the high number of aging cars and the oversupply of old, poorly maintained public transport vehicles, has been exacerbated over the past decade by a series of policies and measures that were adopted without careful consideration about the impact they would have on the environment, 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.”

Merino’s report also recommended 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 sulfur 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.

Each year, on 23 March, the WMO, its 188 Members and the worldwide meteorological community celebrate World Meteorological Day around a chosen theme. This Day commemorates the entry into force, on that date in 1950, of the WMO Convention creating the Organization. Subsequently, in 1951, WMO was designated a specialized agency of the United Nations System.

This year, the theme is “Weather, climate and the air we breathe”.

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