London, Paris and Rome among air pollution hotspots in Europe

A general view of the city of Skopje, seen through polluted air on January 30, 2019, one of the most polluted cities in Europe. (AFP)
Updated 31 March 2019
0

London, Paris and Rome among air pollution hotspots in Europe

  • All across the continent, tens of millions of people live and work in areas where average air pollution levels are well above the maximum limits

PARIS: Big cities beset with gridlocked traffic, major regions producing coal, pockets of heavy industry encased by mountains — Europe’s air pollution hotspots are clearly visible from space on most sunny weekdays.
All across the continent, tens of millions of people live and work in areas where average air pollution levels are well above the maximum limits recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
But the density and type of pollutants can vary from town to town, and sometimes from block to block, depending on whether one is next to an expressway or inside an urban island of leafy green.
That variability makes it nearly impossible to say with accuracy which of Europe’s cities have the most befouled air.
But it is possible to pick out hotspot regions, and rank urban areas by type of pollutant.
On maps prepared by the European Environment Agency (EEA), Italy’s Po Valley is covered with a wide, stain-like blotch of air pollution from the Ligurian Sea in the west to the Adriatic, held in place by the towering Alps to the north.
Many cities in the valley have among Europe’s highest concentrations of dangerous microscopic particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, known as PM2.5.
The WHO says these should not exceed, on average, 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air (10 mcg/m3) per year.
European Union standards are more lenient at 25 mcg/m3, and still several countries regularly overstep this red line.
PM2.5 is a top cause of premature deaths in the EU, some 391,000 in 2016 — 60,000 in Italy alone.
Turin and Milan, meanwhile, are also plagued by high levels of ozone and nitrogen oxides, produced mainly by petrol- and diesel-burning engines.
According to the Air Quality Life Index, maintained by researchers at the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, living in the Po Valley shaves half-a-year off one’s life expectancy.
Another dark spot on Europe’s pollution map is southern Poland, dense with coal-fired power plants and wood-burning.
For PM2.5, Krakow was the second most congested city on the continent in 2016, with an average annual concentration of 38 mcg/m3, just ahead of Katowice.
By comparison, some areas of northern India and China are plagued with concentrations three times higher.
EAA figures for 2016 also show that Krakow and Katowice exceed the recommended annual limits of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone.
Meeting WHO standards for small particle air pollution would add up to 1.5 years to people’s lives in this region, the Air Quality Life Index shows.
Virtually all major cities in Europe face seasonal pollution peaks or chronic air pollution due to non-electric road traffic.
According to Greenpeace, Sofia in Bulgaria boasted the highest levels of PM2.5 particulates in Europe in 2018, and placed 21st among all large cities in the world.
Close behind in the Greenpeace ranking — confirmed by EAA figures for 2016 — were Warsaw, Bucharest, Nicosia, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Paris and Vienna.
The high number of polluted cities in central Europe is directly linked to the continuing use of coal to generate electricity, experts say.
In western Europe, many cities have NO2 levels well in excess of EU-wide standards.
London tops the list, with an average annual concentration of 89 mcg/m3, followed by Paris (83), Stuttgart (82), Munich (80), Marseille (79), Lyon (71), Athens (70) and Rome (65).
Even wind-swept southern Europe has not escaped high levels of air pollution, notably ozone, which is created by a chemical reaction — triggered by sunlight — between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds.
The highest levels are generally found along the Mediterranean in spring and summer, when hundreds of thousands of sun-seekers descend upon the region.


Extreme Easter: Flogging, crucifixions in Philippines

Updated 19 April 2019
0

Extreme Easter: Flogging, crucifixions in Philippines

  • Nearly 80 percent of people in the Philippines are Catholic
  • Catholicism is a legacy of the nation’s 300 years of Spanish colonial rule that ended at the turn of the 20th century

SAN FERNANDO, Philippines: Hundreds of barefoot men beat themselves with flails and at least 10 were to be nailed onto crosses throughout Good Friday in a blood-soaked display of religious fervor in the Philippines.
Frowned upon by the Church, the ritual crucifixions and self-flagellation are extreme affirmations of faith peformed every Easter in Asia’s Catholic outpost.
Barefoot men wearing crowns of twigs walked silently on the side of a village road in the scorching tropical heat of the northern Philippines, flogging their backs with bamboo strips tied to a length of rope.
While many of the 80 million Filipino Catholics spend Good Friday at church or with family, others go to these extreme lengths to atone for sins or seek divine intervention in a spectacle that has become a major tourist attraction.
“This is a religious vow. I will do this every year for as long as I am able,” 38-year-old truck driver Resty David, who has been self-flagellating for half his life at his village in the northern Philippines, told AFP.
He said he also hoped it would convince God to cure his cancer-stricken brother.
Blood and sweat soaked through the penitents’ pants with some spectators grimacing with each strike of the lash.
Some hid behind their companions to avoid the splatter of gore and ripped flesh.
Many in the crowds had driven for hours to witness the frenzied climax of the day’s gory spectacle, when believers allow themselves to be nailed to crosses in a re-enactment the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
“I’m a little bit overwhelmed. It’s very intense, I haven’t expected something like this,” German tourist Annika Ehlers, 24, told AFP.
Ehlers said she had witnessed the first of 10 scheduled crucifixions during the day in villages around the city of San Fernando, about 70 kilometers (40) miles) north of Manila.
Eight centimeter (three-inch) spikes are driven through both the man’s hands and feet before the wooden cross is raised briefly for the crowds to see. After that the nails are pulled out and he is given medical treatment.
The Church says the faithful should spend Lent in quiet prayer and reflection.
“The crucifixion and death of Jesus are more than enough to redeem humanity from the effects of sins. They are once in a lifetime events that need not be repeated,” Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines official Father Jerome Secillano said.
“Holy Week.... is not the time to showcase man’s propensity for entertainment and Pharisaical tendencies,” he added.
Nearly 80 percent of people in the Philippines are Catholic, a legacy of the nation’s 300 years of Spanish colonial rule that ended at the turn of the 20th century.