By Maryam Qarehgozlou

Band-aid solutions won’t resolve underlying causes of air pollution

December 22, 2017

TEHRAN — Air pollution is one of the most discussed issues in Iran especially over the cold seasons when metropolises go through lengthy pollution spells.

The incessant air pollution enveloping metropolises of Iran, particularly Tehran, is tightly linked with the great number of cars hitting the streets all day long. Clunker buses and taxis, which are supposed to replace single passenger cars are insufficient and produce high-emission and merely rub salt into the wound.    

The deputy mayor of Tehran for traffic and transport affairs Maziar Hosseini has said that, “Tehran streets and freeways can hardly handle more than 750,000 vehicles. This is while, every day more than four million cars ply the capital’s overcrowded roads,” ISNA reported.

The odd-even traffic scheme, also known as alternate-day travel, which aims to reduce the emission generated by the vehicles mostly in traffic-congested areas of the capital especially during the peak periods or during peak pollution events restrict traffic access into city center based upon the last digits of the registration number on pre-established days.

However, the scheme is riddled with too many legal loopholes which let the drivers to openly flout it. For one, while the scheme is supposed to limit the number of cars accessing the city center the municipality grant the permission to cars to enter the restricted areas in exchange for money. Everyone can simply apply for daily, weekly, or monthly permission and enter the zone freely without being fined.

The only exception is the highly polluted days during which the scheme will be carried out all over the city, for a day or two, and no one can gain permission to enter the zone. 

If worst comes to worsts, many drivers would enter the restricted zones without the permission and pay a small $5 fine. 

Some also believe that carrying out traffic restriction schemes in the city would do more harm than good in that many would use their carbureted motorcycles- which are surprisingly exempt from the odd-even traffic scheme- and four times more pollutant than cars.

This means that the scheme is inefficacious and is not achieving maximum productivity. The gaping loopholes must be closed by levying hefty fines and imposing stricter regulations. 

As a general rule stopgap measures, such as banning cars from the streets or shutting down schools, would only solve problems temporarily and as air pollution is not a short-term problem and is exacerbating every year more practical and tougher measures must be imposed to deal with the underlying causes of the air pollution.

The number of cars plying the street is not the only problem: the substandard domestically produced cars, heavy vehicles operating on diesel engine, low quality fuel, and old and scanty public transport are the shortcomings which are hindering any improvement in air quality. 

The health ministry spokesman Iraj Harirchi said on Monday that costs associated with air pollution directly or indirectly amount to some 340 trillion rials ($8.5 billion) per annum.

Around 33,000 people in Iran die each year because they are exposed to unhealthy environment, according to official reports released by the health ministry. In Tehran alone some 4,810 deaths occurred in 2016 are attributed to air pollution.

Let’s face it, apparently the officials are not acting as urgent as they should and in case they make any practical decisions they come to fruition in the long run. Air pollution is actually killing people and posing serious health hazards. So, as the citizens who are inevitably inhaling the choking smog every day we need to reconsider our transport options, as much inefficient as it is, using public transport, cycling, using ride-hailing apps or even walking are the alternatives we have for better air quality.

Using overcrowded subways or standing in line for getting on a taxi might be nerve-racking at peak hours but doing so would definitely help us to breathe cleaner air.

MQ/MG

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