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Seeking Solutions to Air Pollution in Baguio 2014

The World Health Organization's (WHO) 2014 Ambient Air Pollution study reported that Baguio city has exceedingly high recorded levels of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), standard measures of air pollution. This became the subject of a community forum, convened by the Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary, on the occasion of World Environment Day, June 5, 2014.

Sixty participants gathered for this community dialogue, with the theme "Seeking Solutions to Air Pollution in Baguio City". Behind this activity is the belief that solutions to air pollution and other environmental problems in the city need the engagement and participation of all sectors, including government and the citizenry.

With input from Dr. Achilles Costales, participants were guided towards a deeper understanding of the WHO report. In the Central Business District of Baguio, PM10 and PM2.5 levels are reducing over time, but are still alarmingly higher than the standards set by the World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines, for the period 2009-2013. Air pollution related diseases in Baguio include upper respiratory tract infections, colds, pharyngitis, asthma, bronchitis, and cardiovascular diseases.

A panel of local government representatives shared their programs and insights towards improving air quality. In Baguio, we have in place a Clean Air Ordinance, a number coding system limiting vehicles entering the Central Business District, and monitoring and fining of smoke-belching vehicles. However, based on the levels of air pollution, these measures are still not enough.

Five speakers in the citizens' panel shared their perspectives and insights towards finding solutions to the air pollution in the city. Dr. Ronald Paraan of the Baguio Heritage Foundation called for the conservation of green and open spaces in the whole city, including the central business district. Architect Rafael Chan proposes the pedestrianization of Session Road, while revitalizing business potential in the area.

Engineer Editha Mejia, environment officer in Camp John Hay, shared that the ambient air quality in John Hay is far better than other parts of the city. Camp John Hay and other forested areas of Baguio act as carbon sinks and help improve the air quality in the city. Thus, we need to preserve all forested areas left in Baguio.

Dr. Rosalina Tandoc, a pulmonologist in the Baguio General Hospital, called for individual behavioral change. She advised the audience to drive less, fly less, walk and bike more, practice recycling, and to find ways to reduce our personal carbon footprint.

Engineer Mona Reyes, advocate of the Brahma Kumaris Environment Initiative, shared her insights towards living sustainably and harmoniously. She invited the participants to choose sustainable, simple, and less materialistic lifestyles, and to practice meditation and silent reflection. A vegetarian diet preserves valuable oxygen in air, reduces pollution and carbon footprint, and contributes to health and future of the planet.

The citizens panel, though coming from different groups with various perspectives, all agreed that we should do our part in addressing the problems of Baguio, not just on air pollution, but also on development planning, urban core management, conservation and restoration of Baguio, and personal lifestyle change.

In conclusion, we need to strengthen true citizen participation in managing the development of Baguio. Citizens need to build a stronger voice, and engage with government towards achieving sustainable development for Baguio city, which is based on the health and well-being of the people of Baguio, and in harmony with nature and the planet Earth.

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