Monday, December 13, 2010

Environment watchdog warns government of pollution effects of unsustainable tourism plan

A waste and pollution watchdog has warned the Department of Tourism (DOT) that an open skies policy would have an enormous impact on the environment as it would allow unlimited flights by foreign airlines into the country.

EcoWaste Coalition member Rene D. Pineda, Jr., president of the Citizens’ Organizations Concerned with Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability (COCAP), said the targeted six million tourists by the DOT is also alarming considering the huge waste that these visitors would be leaving behind and the destruction on ecology.

Pineda said DOT Secretary Alberto Lim, an advocate of open skies, clearly disregarded the tourism industry’s additional burden to the country’s solid waste woes and completely ignored the mandate of DOT Memorandum Circular No. 2005-04 declaring “Zero Tourism Waste” as a goal and direction for sustainable tourism and development.

He said the planned six million tourist arrivals annually, projecting that each would stay an average of one week, would translate to additional 21 million kilos of waste requiring 7,000 truck-trips to existing environmentally critical dumpsites.

At current P500 per capita appropriation for hauling and dumping waste, he added, about P58 million worth of public funds is required to manage the projected waste.

Pineda, also president of the Partnership for Clean Air (PCA) and member of the executive committee of the Metro Manila Airshed Governing Board, emphasized that the volume of added pollution and greenhouse gases emitted into the air due to the planned increase in aviation traffic due to open skies will inevitably render the National Capital Region uninhabitable.

“It’s frightening that Secretary Lim, in his efforts to attract more tourists, is blindly courting danger and putting the health of the nation at risk for advocating an aviation policy without first studying its impact on the environment,” he said.

Pineda explained that aircraft emissions, air-side support vehicles and airport related traffic contribute to the accumulation of deadly gases like oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and ozone.

They also produce particulate matter (PM) sized at 2.5-10 microns that are not visible to the eye as a singular unit and can easily penetrate the lungs.

He said clinical studies conducted at the School of Public Medicine, University of Illinois-Chicago, estimated that as many as five-million people’s health could be affected as a result of just one airport, O’Hare.

The United Nations has released a report that aviation is responsible for over half of the pollution caused by transportation.

The European Union’s (land) transport emissions are up 34 percent since 1990, while its aviation emission has since gone up by 110 percent due mainly to increased aviation traffic resulting from open skies, he added.

Pineda pointed out that the aviation sector is no different from EDSA’s current situation in terms of lethal level of pollution, chaos, cutthroat competition, and near-empty buses during off peak hours.

He quoted aviation pollution studies that said “one aircraft take-off can burn thousands of pounds of fuel; air pollution levels from one 747 takeoff is similar to setting the local gas station on fire and then flying it over your head; and the pollution from just one, two-minute 747 takeoff is equal to operating 2.4 million lawnmowers simultaneously.”

He said this information is frightening considering the National Air Quality Status Report of 2008 disclosing the life-threatening level of air pollution in Metro Manila, particularly in EDSA, where the allowable level set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been breached by more than 300 percent.

The report said the total suspended air particulates (TSP) in Metro Manila stood at 138 micrograms per normal cubic meter, way above 90 micrograms set by the DENR under the Clean Air Act.

And during the first six months of 2010, air pollution in Metro Manila worsened with TSP rising at 163 micrograms, with EDSA reaching a level of 282.

The 2009 World Bank study stated that “over 1.5 million Filipinos of varying ages afflicted with respiratory illnesses annually are due to air pollution in urban areas, notably Metro Manila.

The aggregate annual cost of air pollution related illnesses is close to P1 billion, with productivity losses accounting for P502 million, personal costs for diseases treatment accounting for P360 million and government health care subsidiaries accounting for P88 million.”

A Department of Health study in 2004 said that considerable morbidity and mortality due to respiratory and cardiovascular disease could have been prevented if the air quality in Metro Manila is not higher than 50 micrograms of pollutants per normal cubic meter.

“Other countries, particularly the US and European Union, are moving aggressively to limit carbon emissions in the aviation industry yet here we are encouraging more flights on the misguided notion of attracting more tourists,” Pineda stressed.


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