Press Release for World Environment Day: Air Pollution is a silent killer in Sri Lanka.

Jun 5, 2019

Press Release from the Centre for Environmental Justice.

The theme of the World Environment day 2019 is #Beat Air Pollution. Air pollution is one of the silent killer in Sri Lanka. According to the Health Authorities over 45% of the admissions of children to hospitals are due to air pollution in Sri Lanka. It has also been estimated that 7,792 people died from air pollution-related disease and the rate is increasing each year. The top illness caused by air pollution is Ischemic heart disease.  

According to the United Nations, approximately 7 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution, with about 4 millions of these deaths occurring in Asia-Pacific. Air pollution costs the global economy $5 trillion every year in welfare costs. Further, ground-level ozone pollution is expected to reduce staple crop yields by 26 per cent by 2030.

World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that 92% of the people in the World do not breathe clean air and around 8 million deaths annually can be attributed to air pollution with 4.3 million deaths from indoor air pollution and 3.7 million deaths from outdoor air pollution.

WHO recognizes that air pollution is a critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.

In 2010, Evaluation and Research Unit, National Institute of Health Sciences, Ministry of Health, Kalutara, Sri Lanka concluded that “air pollution may be considered a neglected public health problem in Sri Lanka”. (Y L Nandasena et. al, 2010)   

According to Mr. Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice said  that “although there are some criticisms, Vehicle Emission Testing (VET) programme is responsible for cleaning urban air in Sri Lanka. However,  increased of number of vehicles on the streets, traffic congestions, increased construction sites in the urban centres, removal of trees and public green areas have negatively contributed the air quality of cities in Sri Lanka”.  “Many government vehicles and public busses still do not follow the emission regulations” he added.

According to statistics compiled by Prof. Amal Kumarage of the Moratuwa University (2017), on an average, 300,000 vehicles enter the Colombo city daily. There are 7.24 million vehicles in Sri Lanka out of which 4.04 million are motorcycles with 1.14 million three wheelers and 600,000 vehicles are registered every year. The lack of a proper high quality public transport system has resulted in over 50% of the working population to use private vehicles to commute to work. Average speed for vehicles in Colombo was 22 km/hour in 2012 while it is now 17 km/hour. Vehicles travelling in traffic jams produce more fine particles in the form of soot which adversely affects our health.

After three decades of epidemiologic research, diesel exhaust was classified as a carcinogen in humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2012 based on evidence of its carcinogenicity to the lung. It is also a known fact that  low quality Diesel has high Sulphur levels. 

The current air pollution level around Sri Lanka has an annual average of 22 µg/m3 of PM2.5 particles which is 2.2 times the WHO safe level. Currently The main source of ambient air pollution in Sri Lanka is vehicular emissions, which in Colombo contributes to over 60% of total emissions. 

“Indoor air pollution is caused by congested houses, cooking with fire woods  and even with the use of  chemicals in indoors, kerosene lamps, burning mosquito coils and incense sticks etc. About 4.3 million people worldwide annually die from such indoor air pollution.  Some indoor pollutants such as chemicals, mosquito coils and Incense sticks release carcinogenic chemicals” Hemantha Withanage added.

While fossil based electricity generation releases Greenhouse gases lack of electricity at  houses also  result indoor air pollution either by burning fire woods for cooking or burning kerosene lamps.

Climate crisis itself is a result of unabated air pollution. Study from the Duke University claims that as many as 153 million deaths linked to air pollution worldwide this century could be prevented if governments speed up timetables for reducing fossil fuel emissions to keep below 1.5 C temperature increase. 

The public awareness is lagging on the danger of air pollution. People continue to pollute air at all levels and also die due to this lack of awareness. World Environment Day 2019 is an another moment to call governments, industries, communities, and individuals to come together to explore renewable energy and green technologies, and improve air quality in cities and regions across the world.

Centre for Environmental Justice appeal to all Sri Lankan Citizens to act together and reduce own air pollution footprint.

People around the world  take collective actions on June 5 every year  to celebrate  World Environment Day. “Air pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2019, is a call to action to combat one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time. Chosen by this year’s host, China, the theme of World Environment Day 2019 invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the amount of air pollution we produce, and thwart its contribution to global warming and its effects on our own health.

For more information

Hemantha Withanage 0777600503

Ranjan Karunanayake 0717774947