Combatting air Pollution in Sri Lanka-Environment Minister makes a special statement in parliament
COLOMBO : Environment Minister Naseer Ahamed made a special statement on the air pollution which is plaguing the county on Friday, December 9
The full statement : “ Air pollution is the most significant environmental threat to public health globally and accounts for an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year. Air pollution and climate change are closely linked as all major pollutants have an impact on the climate and most share familiar sources with greenhouse gases. Improving our air quality will bring health, development, and environmental benefits. Even though air pollution is a global problem, it disproportionately affects those living in developing nations and particularly the most vulnerable, such as women, children, and the elderly. The most dangerous of the air pollutants are particles, which can include anything from soot, and soil dust, to sulfates, which are fine particles 2.5 microns or less in diameter —shortened as PM2.5. Transboundary air pollution is an environmental externality where it imposes external costs to people who are external to the transaction of a polluting product.
- Regional Context
Since 1979, the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) has been a game changer in combating air pollution through intergovernmental cooperation in the global north. The Convention has 51 Parties and eight protocols, most of which address specific pollutants. .
ASEAN Member States (AMS) have launched several regional initiatives to promote regional collaboration. One of the most significant endeavors was the development of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP), which came into force in 2003.
Under the leadership of UNESCAP, a regional ministerial declaration for regional action on air pollution for Asia and the Pacific was recently agreed upon. Malé Declaration on Control and Prevention of Air Pollution and Its Likely Transboundary Effects for South Asia was envisaged in phases and successfully implemented by UNEP in partnership with SACEP with financial support from Sweden’s government agency for development cooperation (SIDA). It focused on technical assistance to build the capacities of the member countries to combat transboundary air pollution. The contribution was made voluntarily. After phase VI of the Male Declaration, the funding was not provided by the UNEP and it became inactive. In the last Governing Council Meeting of the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) held in 2019 it was decided to discontinue the Malé Declaration. In 2022, a revised agreement of the Male declaration is shared by the member countries and it is being reviewed by the Ministry of Environment.
- National Context
The issue of air pollution in Sri Lanka, particularly in the urban sector, surfaced in the late 1990s with the findings of several research studies and field measurements. The analysis of AQ data suggested that the transport sector was the main source of pollution. Accordingly, the main thrust in AQM has been given to the road transport sector, and the Sri Lanka Vehicle Emission Testing programme (SLVET) is now being implemented throughout the country.
According to UNEP, in Sri Lanka, each person’s annual mean exposure to air pollution is 4 times higher than WHO’s a guideline. 33 deaths per 100,000 people is found to be attributable to fine particle pollution in 2019 (7,261 in total in the country). According to the State of the Air Quality report 2019, 6% of total air-pollution-attributable deaths in Sri Lanka are in children under 5, and 11% are in adults over 70. Air pollution reduced life expectancy in Sri Lanka by 1.2 years.
Presently air quality in Sri Lanka is monitored by the Central Environment Authority (CEA) and National Building Research Organization (NBRO). CEA monitors through 02 air quality monitoring stations in Kandy and Battaramulla, and 03 air quality monitoring sensors in Kurunagala, Anuradhapura, and Jaffna. NBRO monitors through an island-wide network of air quality monitoring sensors and the air pollution status can be viewed through www.airquality.lk online platform.
- Local Context
According to the National Building Research Organization (NBRO), Almost all urban areas exceed the WHO annual guidelines with respect to PM2.5. The highest polluted cities based on PM 2.5 pollution annual average value monitored through sensors are Colombo, Kurunegala, Jaffna, Vavuniya, and Kegalle in 2022.
Sri Lanka being an island country is vulnerable to transboundary air pollution where air pollutants are transported through the wind movement. Recently observed (December 2022) high levels of air pollution were due to the wind movement from the northern part of south Asia towards Sri Lanka. According to the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change of India, a sudden spike in air pollution levels observed in Delhi is possibly due to localized factors such as vehicular traffic, construction, and demolition activities. The global air pollution maps show a decline in air pollution levels due to the change in wind movements today (09 Dec 2022).
- Air pollution rankings
According to the Air quality and pollution city ranking of IQ Air, the most polluted city as of 09 Dec 2022 is Lahore, Pakistan followed by Delhi, India. Sri Lankan cities are not among the most 100 polluted cities globally. However, Sri Lanka as a country was ranked 58 among the most polluted countries in the world. According to the State of Global Air Quality Report, Sri Lanka ranked 06 among 13 Southeast Asian countries in 2019 with regard to Pm 2.5 exposure.
- Combating air pollution in Sri Lanka
According to the UNEP, Sri Lanka has met 5 out of its 9 targets: clean production incentives, vehicle emission standards, sustainable agricultural practices, air quality management strategies, and air quality standards. Sri Lanka is yet to incentivize residential cooking and heating, reduce sulfur in diesel, and control solid waste burning. UNEP recommends that the country also needs improvement in its air quality monitoring system.
The CEA has planned to integrate a few more air quality monitoring stations into its existing network with the support of the Vehicle Emission Testing (VET) Fund. NBRO is also obtaining support from the private sector and the VET fund to strengthen its sensor network to monitor air quality.
Clean Air Action Plan 2025 and the National Environment Action Plan 2030 specify actions to combat air pollution in Sri Lanka. If all the stakeholders are made committed to achieving the targets specified in these plans, Sri Lanka can improve its air quality levels. However, there is a need for high financial investment.
- Comparison of standards
PM2.5 annual mean air quality guideline
Exposure to air pollution creates serious health impacts, especially for vulnerable populations. Therefore, during days of high levels of air pollution people must be advised to refrain from vigorous physical activities outdoors. Children and people with chronic illnesses such as respiratory illnesses and heart disease must refrain from being outdoors unnecessarily.
- Critical actions needed to be taken to combat air pollution in Sri Lanka
- Strengthening the existing air quality monitoring network
- Improving the efficiency of road transport
- Promoting the use of public transport
- Improving the public transport systems
- Phasing out inefficient vehicles
- Improving vehicle import and emission standards
- Promotion of electric mobility
- Improving the fuel quality
- Making air-polluting industries compulsory to install continuous air quality monitoring equipment and connect to the Central Environment Authority for data access
- Invest in raising awareness on combating air pollution
- Sharing air quality information with the general public
- Influence towards environmentally sustainable decision making”.|