By Prof. O. A. I. Ileperuma
An international web site giving information about Kandy to tourists had this to say in its concluding paragraph "the city is ugly and its air pollution unbearable". This is a serious matter since tourism in Kandy is affected by such adverse comments and furthermore, this situation greatly endangers the health of the citizens of Kandy, especially school children. Most of the city schools are situated along very busy roads.
It is not surprising to see increasing numbers of children coming down with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. According to Dr. Anoma Siribaddana, Consultant Chest physician at the Kandy General hospital, the number of children with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is on the rise. This condition normally affects middle aged and older adults and habitual smokers. This is a serious health condition for which there is no cure apart from controlling the symptoms. Hospital statistics also show an increase in the number of asthma patients who spend time in the city. Presence of COPD in children is an alarming trend which should receive the attention of the authorities.
The city of Kandy situated in a valley between the Hanatane and Hunnasgiriya mountains is expected to have high degree of air pollution. In fact, a comparison of the data collected from the Colombo Fort monitoring station and also from Kandy during the period 2001-2005 show that air pollution levels in Kandy are far higher than in Colombo. Colombo is situated on a flat terrain close to the sea and that helps disperse pollution over a larger area while air pollutants get concentrated in the Kandy valley surrounded by mountains. As a result, while only about 10% of the data from Colombo exceed the gazetted air quality standards, about 40% of the data recorded for Kandy exceed the national standards.
I have written many articles about the air pollution in Kandy and in one of them I pointed out the need for reopening the closed roads. Even today, the road running adjacent to the Temple of the Tooth is closed to traffic thereby creating huge traffic snarls on other by-roads. The result is that children are exposed to severe air pollution.
When I wrote an article about this in 2003, this road was opened for light traffic. The result was a drastic drop in the air pollution levels. I have monitored air pollution in the Kandy city from 2001-2005 and hence can speak with some authority on this matter.
The particle concentration dropped by nearly 70% and the sulphur dioxide levels, too, dropped by about 50% after the roads were reopened.
These two pollutants are the major causes of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Vehicles caught up in traffic jams spew a large amount of black smoke with these particles. In addition, unburnt petrol emitted from motor vehicles has polyaromatic compounds which are known to cause cancer. Air pollution also triggers heart attacks and other heart related diseases.
Some studies carried out in developed countries suggest that if the particle concentration increases by about 10% then the additional deaths of elderly people with heart conditions also increases by about 10%. Sadly, such statistics are not available from Sri Lanka and there is an urgent need for the health authorities to be concerned about this since it is the government resources which have to be spent for treating a sick population.
The road reopening in 2003 may have not been because of what I wrote that article but the effects are certainly beneficial to the people in Kandy. Keeping this road closed may satisfy the ego of some but they should realise that this causes enormous damage to the health of people and our future generations.
Already this government has taken some positive steps towards alleviating traffic problems in Kandy by building a four lane highway at Gannoruwa and commissioning the Katugastota bridge. However, this is not enough because these are far away from the Kandy city. Therefore, I wish to appeal to the President to open up the closed road in front of the Dalada maligawa to vehicular traffic and also take some meaningful steps to solve the traffic problem in Kandy.
The President has rendered a great service to our children by creating a fear-free environment for them to grow up. Reopening of this road will benefit children and grown ups alike as that will help reduce pollution in the city.