The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Drop in air pollution in time for 2020 World Asthma Day

Saturday, 2 May 2020, 07:29 Last update: about 8 months ago

While asthma sufferers are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, the recent significant drop in air pollution rates is helping in other ways. But can these rates be sustained? 

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the world and brought many aspects of society to a standstill. But while many factors of life during the pandemic have been negative, plummeting air pollution rates have been a source of hope – especially among asthma sufferers and those with other respiratory conditions.

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That information is especially poignant this week, in the run up to World Asthma Day on Tuesday 5 May. In recent years, this day has provided an opportunity to raise awareness about the fact that air pollution levels have been exceptionally high, in particular levels of PM2.5 which are especially harmful to the respiratory system.

However, this year, all components of fossil fuel generated air pollution have dropped dramatically within record time.

“Just one month into COVID-19 we were already at 75% lower air pollution levels globally than any other time post World War II, which has meant asthma sufferers can breathe more easily and proves that it is possible to ensure our atmosphere does not exceed 1.5 degrees centigrade of global warming by 2050” says Vanya Veras, a Malta-based expert in environmental affairs, waste management, and green infrastructure.

“This is backed by new research by climate experts who have studied the effect resulting from having a good part of the world in lockdown or self-isolation, meaning that millions of people are at home and not travelling,” continues Veras. “This has led to much less traffic on the roads, fewer flights, and less activity overall, thus flattening the coronavirus infection curve and causing emissions to plummet.”

If we intend to return to ‘business as usual’ after this health crisis, we will have gained nothing in terms of sustained respiratory health, nor will we have learned anything in the efforts not to exceed 1.5 degrees centigrade of global warming.  “This is the time for Governments the world over to focus investments on shifting into a green economy by upscaling  and embedding carbon neutral processes, practices and products while also creating new jobs,” Veras enthuses, “ as they begin to look at measures to ease lockdowns.”

There could be numerous ways to achieve this. With millions of people currently working from home successfully, incentives could be introduced to retain this system. Meanwhile public transport could continue to be improved in a concerted effort to reduce private car use, while improved road infrastructure could encourage people to use alternative means of transport such as walking and cycling.

Furthermore, Veras believes that large scale investment needs to be made in green infrastructure, with more green public spaces and incentives for individuals to install green roofs and green walls in their homes and offices. This will greatly reduce the urban heat island effect as well as energy demand and its related emissions. Research and investment into renewable energy needs to continue too, with the objective of completely replacing fossil fuel power. Another source of particulate and methane emissions is from food waste in landfills. Reduction of food waste and composting when it cannot be prevented coupled with a targeted campaign to inform farmers of the benefits of compost as a soil improver will resolve this problem in Malta, she said..

“If we make the most of these opportunities, reduced air pollution could become a reality,” claims Veras. “In the meantime, we need to continue to be responsible and to practice social distancing and proper care for asthma sufferers as we sit out the pandemic. If our leaders take this incredible opportunity, then we can look to a brighter, less polluted world – a world that may not even need World Asthma Days in the future!”

Photo: Vivacity

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