By Jhesset O. Enano
Instead of reverting to “business as usual,” the government should start working to make the transport system greener and more efficient and, in the process, sustain the good air quality made possible by the lockdown imposed to control COVID-19, a nongovernment group said.
With restrictions on movement slowly being eased around the country, the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) said the government must craft proper strategies to fix the transport system and forestall the return of the polluted air that poses dangers to our health.
“The ‘new normal’ should also be imaginative,” said CREA analyst Isabella Suarez in an interview on Thursday. “We have to start investing and focusing on solutions that have been recommended for a very long time, but which we have not actually pursued.”
An analysis done by CREA showed that the slowdown in economic and social activities in Southeast Asian countries has led to an overall reduction in emissions, as well as electricity demand, in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Metro Manila.
Using Sentinel-5p satellite data, the group conducted a year-on-year comparison of the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels, focusing on periods when countries entered lockdown.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, NO2 is a harmful gas that comes from vehicle emissions and power plants. Exposure to it can aggravate respiratory diseases and put children and the elderly at greater risk.
Data analysis also showed that lockdown measures have led to approximately 45-percent reduction in NO2 levels in Metro Manila from March 15 to May 5, compared to the same period last year.
This analysis is consistent with data from both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Airtoday.ph, which showed general improvement in air quality in particular cities in the Metro during the community quarantine.
Suarez said that through this global health crisis, people were offered a glimpse of life with more breathable air. The challenge, she added, was how to turn this into a daily reality by reducing fossil fuel use and enforcing air quality standards.
One long-term solution would be to build the people’s trust in the mass transport system, which would require investments and commitment from both the national and local governments, Suarez suggested.
“We also have to promote active travel and lifestyle mobility, such as biking,” she said. “A lot more Filipinos would do it if it were safe to do so … [It] could fundamentally shape how our cities function.”
Suarez said these actions can avert a potential increase in the number of private cars on the road once the quarantine is lifted, as people might fear taking mass transport amid the spread of the virus and look for alternative options.