If you take a train into Manila or New Delhi on a sunny day you will notice that a greyish smog envelopes the city. It is the really fine particulate matter that you end up inhaling and this gets lodged in your lungs. It can eventually kill you. Unlike Delhi, Manila has woken up to this harsh reality. Twelve years after it was first proposed, the Philippines' first law to reduce air pollution was initialed by President Joseph Estrada. (See page 16: Clean act).
"Clean air is a right we all deserve,' said House Speaker Manuel Villar. Manila, according to the World Health Organisation, is one of the world's most polluted cities. So is Delhi. A lot of people in Delhi echo Villar's sentiment. Pollution from the city's automobile fleet is a major problem in Delhi. Manila has even banned incinerators. It is well known worldwide that inefficient incineration leads to the problem of dioxins in the environment. These mimic female hormones, are highly carcinogenic and can lead to reproductive disorders among children and adults.
Banning incinerators is also a signal for unscruplous transnational companies seeking to dump inferior incinerator technology upon the third world. Incineration as a method to dispose off waste has been a major failure in the west and Japan and companies have been eyeing markets in the east after this.
Meanwhile, oil companies Pilipinas Shell and Caltex Philippines, which had mounted a well-funded campaign against the law, have increased the price of fuel. They had earlier threatened to raise the prices if the law was enacted. According to the new law, all petroleum products will have to be lead-free by 2001. By 2003, levels of sulphur and benzene in fuels will have to be halved, and aromatics content reduced from the present 55 per cent to 35 per cent.
Is there a lesson for India?