Baguio City brands itself in the tourism market as a home of pine trees that produce fresh, healthy air. However, a report from the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations division for public health, surprisingly tagged Baguio the city with the most polluted air in the Philippines.
The disturbing report which was released in the first week of May surfaced despite known efforts of the city government and environmental authorities to continuously monitoring air quality around the metro.
What Does the WHO Report Really Say
In the results of the Ambient Air Pollution Study for 2014 as released by the WHO, Baguio City was identified to have the most polluted air in the country.
According to the report on the presence of Particulate Matter 10 (PM 10), Baguio is at 107 micrograms per cubic meter of pollutants. In Cebu, it is at 47 micrograms per cubic meter while Manila is at 49 micrograms per cubic meter.
In terms of Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), Baguio is at 40 micrograms per cubic meter. Cebu and Manila are both at 22 micrograms per cubic meter.
Undeniably, the released statistical records by experts point out that Baguio produces the most polluted air among the three cities on the list which are key locations in the country.
WHO noted that most cities in the world fail to meet air quality guidelines thus increasing risk of health problems caused by pollution. In fact, the three cities have exceeded the tolerable levels of 20 micrograms per cubic meter of PM 2.5.
What People Need to Know and Understand
The report was released with a warning from the WHO on outdoor pollution as the one responsible for deaths of about 3.7 million people under the age of 60 in 2012.
As noted in the study although not popularly elaborated in news stories, the WHO report was based on Clean Air Initiative Study in 2010 and not in 2014 or any other current findings to accurately represent the present status of air quality in the compared cities.
The report cited Clean Air Initiative Asia, a non-government organization advocating the environment and health, as the source of the data.
However, Clean Air Initiative Asia denied that it ranks cities.
“We do not rank cities based only on air pollution levels because this provides an incomplete picture of air quality management within a city,” Maria Katrina Patdu, Air Quality Program Manager of Clean Air Initiatives Asia, told Manila Standard Today.
In 2003, World Bank also found Baguio City air the most polluted in the country. According to the WB, Baguio is incurring losses of about P500 million due to health cases.
When the WB report sparked public interest, then Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Arturo Valdez admitted he was surprised with the findings. He told Philippine Star he “have always remembered Baguio as a city rich in the environment and pollution-free.”
Baguio City, Cordillera Officials React Negatively
Baguio City officials described the WHO report unfair and misleading. They are worried about its effect on tourism.
Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan noted that the air quality monitoring machines are located at the most bottom part of Session Road which is the most polluted area in the city.
However in Cebu and Manila, the machines are located inside school campuses.
Domogan said it is unfair and improper for the WHO to declare the entire city as the most polluted considering that Baguio’s Burnham Park, Pacdal and Camp John Hay have cleaner air compared to other locations in the country.
DENR Regional Director Paquito Moreno also doubted the report and said the locations of the ambient air quality monitoring machines in the three cities were not in accordance with existing rules and regulations. However, he said that pollution in the central spot of the city has been high during rush hours.
Moreover, Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Regional Director Oscar Cabanayan expressed that “numerous interventions have been taken to ensure that people will breathe clean air in the city.”
EMB environmental specialist Wilhelmina Lagonilla revealed that in 2010, air quality monitoring machines in Cebu and Manila were not functional.
Civilians have mixed reactions on the WHO report. Some agree; others do not just like some government officials. What remains to be the true and unanimously acceptable is the need to continue monitor air quality in the city and to help reduce pollution in any part of the world.
by: Christian Aligo