Megacities Slowly Suffocating
AROUND the world megacities, urban giants, are growing, attracting millions who are in search of work, housing, and the conveniences of city life. But the price is high. Even the act of drawing a breath in these sprawling cities is becoming ever more hazardous to human health.
A recent report from UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) and the World Health Organization shows that air pollution in 20 of the world’s biggest cities has been getting drastically worse. “In some cases,” says Our Planet, a magazine published in Kenya by UNEP, “the air pollution is as bad as the infamous London smogs of 40 years ago.” The inhabitants of Mexico City are the hardest hit in this respect, but the tens of millions of people living in such cities as Bangkok, Beijing, Cairo, and São Paulo are not much better off.
How dangerous is the air in such cities? Well, high levels of the major pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead, are dangerous in a number of ways. Their effects on the body are wide-ranging: respiratory and cardiovascular problems, neurological damage, and even bone marrow, liver, and kidney trouble.
What is causing the pollution? The largest single cause in these cities, according to Our Planet, is the motor vehicle. Since the present number of vehicles in the world—630 million—“is expected to double within the next 20-30 years, mostly in urban areas,” the future for city air looks dark indeed. To make matters worse, few preventive measures have been taken, since, as the report notes, in most megacities “there is little awareness of the severity of the problem.” Not surprisingly, then, Our Planet urges that such cities give high priority to measures aimed at clearing the air. If this is not done, the future is ominous. According to the journal’s assessment, “these cities face slow suffocation as their air condition continues to worsen.”