EghtesadOnline: The increasing number of dilapidated vehicles plying the streets, ineffective remedial schemes, inefficient urban management and climate change effects have made living and breathing in an expanding and highly polluted metropolis like Tehran very difficult.
Based on the data released by Tehran Air Quality Control Company, Tehran’s residents have breathed a varying dose of toxic emissions in all the months of January over the past five years, according to Financial Tribune.
A close analysis of Air Quality Index during the period makes this very clear. AQI is used by government agencies to announce the prevailing level of air pollution, or how polluted it is forecast to become.
The index categorizes conditions dictated by a measure of polluting matters into good (0-50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-200), very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (301-500).
In January, people in Tehran did not see clear blue skies even for a single day. Instead, the "moderate" status was recorded for 17 days, as the index hovered between 51 and 100.
Those with respiratory disorders, cardiovascular diseases, the elderly, pregnant women and children were warned of their outdoor exposure for the remaining 14 days, as AQI remained "unhealthy" for sensitive group.
Pollutants measured to determine air quality include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). AQI figures are calculated as per the concentration of pollutants.
During the month under study, PM2.5—particulate matters smaller than 2.5 micrometers—was responsible for the 14 polluted days, making January's average AQI equal to 97.38, slightly lower than the threshold of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” status.
Fluctuations in the average AQI in all the months of January during 2016-20 are evident from the accompanying bar chart.
The month recorded two days of "good" air quality, which are also unusual in a polluted and crowded city like Tehran. Residents in the capital breathed in "moderate" air quality for 17 days and the 12 remaining days remained "unhealthy" for sensitive groups.
The average AQI stood at 89.25, a tad better compared to January 2020 but still within the "moderate" scale.
The index curve starts to ascend in January 2018. The AQI average increased to 102.93, moving from "moderate" to "unhealthy" status for sensitive people.
During the month, the metropolis experiences one day with "unhealthy" air quality for all groups, 18 "unhealthy" days for vulnerable people and 12 "moderate" days.
Air quality on average was worse off in January 2017, hovering around 108.29 and maintaining the "unhealthy" status for sensitive groups.
All residents of Tehran were advised to limit their outdoor activities for two days, as the index stood between 151 and 200, and hitting "unhealthy" status. Air quality became intolerable for the sensitive group for 17 days and "moderate" air quality was recorded in the remaining 12 days.
The AQI trajectory sharply falls in January 2016, as the average index shrinks to 86.35 and shows a "moderate" status. During the month, five blessed days remained "good" and 14 days had "moderate" air quality.
The sensitive group, however, were warned for 12 remaining days.
During the whole five-year studies, PM2.5 was blamed for all the days with poor air quality, specifically in January 2017, when the average AQI was the highest.
Scientific studies show that among air pollutants, particulate matters, especially PM2.5, are the most harmful due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and blood streams unfiltered, causing heart attacks, respiratory disease and premature death.
Generally speaking, air pollution of any kind has been recognized as the fourth leading cause of premature deaths worldwide.
According to a report released by the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization, during the fiscal year that ended in March 2017, some 12,000 air pollution-related deaths were reported in Iran, with one-third of the fatalities recorded in the capital.
Recently, an official with the Department of Environment told media outlets that air pollution annually costs Tehran residents $2.6 billion, which imply that air pollution inflicts a loss of $300 on each resident.
Air pollution has long been an environmental and health nuisance for the citizens and urban managers of Tehran. Over the past few decades, mayor after mayor has failed to address the issue effectively, making excuses for their inefficiency.
A couple of months ago, Tehran’s Mayor Pirouz Hanachi had wistfully said the only way out of the current smog crisis facing the megacity is to hope for the helping hand of Nature.
“If the wind were to blow our way, the situation would improve,” he had said.
Hanachi has repeatedly emphasized that the burning of fossil fuels, excessive use of private cars and the growing number of low-quality motorcycles are the main culprits causing air pollution in the megacity.
Urban managers believe that severe trade restrictions resulting from US sanctions have hampered the expansion of Iran’s public transportation fleet. Plans to purchase new buses and add more train wagons to the city's subway network have ground to a halt under the constrained economic conditions.
In spite of these failures, the mayor still insists on populist, face-saving moves like participating in bike riding campaigns and taking the subway to work, in hopes of encouraging the public to let go of their private cars and use the ailing public services to commute.
Millions of people work and live in Tehran. They all need decent transportation. However, government and municipality coffers are lacking in funds when it comes to upgrading or expanding public transportation services.
Given the absence of long-term initiatives and the lack of determination to combat air pollution on a war footing, citizens will continue to suffer in the foreseeable future in Iranian metropolises.