We can take some solace this week that the Philippines is nowhere near the top 10 list of the most polluted countries, nor is Manila among the most polluted cities, based on the 2019 World Air Quality Report from IQAir, a Swiss and American company specializes in technology solutions that help protect people from airborne pollutants.
The distinction of most polluted country belongs to Bangladesh, while the most polluted city in terms of air quality was New Delhi, India.
The report focuses on PM2.5 concentrations, which are ambient airborne particles measuring up to 2.5 microns in size. This type of pollutant is widely regarded as most harmful to human health, as its microscopic size allows particles to enter the blood stream through the respiratory system and travel throughout the body, causing far-reaching health effects, including asthma, lung cancer and heart disease.
Air pollution has also been associated with low birth weight, increased acute respiratory infections and stroke.
Out of 98 countries surveyed, the Philippines ranked 57th, with a PM2.5 concentration of 17.6 micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3). This compares favorably to 56 other countries, including Bangladesh (83 μg/m3), Pakistan (65.8), Mongolia (62.0), Afghanistan (58.8), and India (58.1).
Within Southeast Asia, air quality in the Philippines was better than Indonesia (51.7), Vietnam (34.1), Myanmar (31.0), Thailand (24.3), Laos (23.1), Cambodia (21.1), Malaysia (19.4) , and even Singapore (19.0).
Manila, which ranks 47th among the most polluted cities, had a score of 18.2 μg/m3, in comparison with New Delhi (98.6), Jakarta (49.4), Hanoi (46.9), Beijing (42.1), Seoul (24.8) and Bangkok (22.8).
That we are not as bad as our neighbors in the region or other nations in the world shouldn’t make us complacent, however.
The country’s 17.6 μg/m3 PM2.5 reading was actually higher than the 14.6 μg/m3 registered in 2018, indicating a drop in air quality. Similarly, Manila’s 18.2 μg/m3 in 2019 was higher than the year before, at 14.3 μg/m3.
Moreover, the country’s 17.6 μg/m3 PM2.5 reading is 76 percent higher than the level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), which sets an annual mean exposure of 10 μg/m3 to minimize health risks from PM2.5.
Environmental groups note that the IQAir report looks only at PM2.5 pollution and does not include other pollutants such as sulfur oxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and other contaminants that carry deleterious health risks.
A report released by Greenpeace Philippines earlier this month, for example, showed that these and other toxic emissions can result in 27,000 premature deaths and cost Filipinos as much as 1.9 percent drop in gross domestic product growth. The groups are calling for better air pollution standards in the Philippines, including improved monitoring, transparency and analysis—a call we should all get behind.