Its 8.30 in the morning and air is already heavy. A careful look at the far end of the street would unmistakably show the haze .This is , not from the dew filled soft breeze of the mountain air, but from the legions of vehicles clogging the narrow streets. Clogging they do few times of the day, in to the late evening, with the respite of fresh air a distant possibility only after 10 pm .a fact which the large numbers of tourists seem to know ,going by the numbers at restaurants late in to the night.
This is the state of affairs in the hill capital, a world heritage city, and a magnet for tourism and a center of Buddhism all rolled into one.
Years ago an NGO erected boards in two prominent locations within the city, showing continuously updated data on the air quality within the city. Needless to say the figures weren’t far from rosy. In fact some of the figures like particles release and NO2 were way beyond normal. The reaction by the authorities? Well, they removed the boards posthaste.
Since then more than 3 million vehicles have been added to the already congested roads and the traffic in Kandy may have increased three folds or more, to reach 150000 vehicles crossing the town per day.
It was just the other day that president Sirisena opened up on air pollution in Kandy. It’s true that a study done years ago found that the air quality in the Kandy town area was 3 times worse than in Colombo. The data however, is 6 years old and in fact much has changed since then to make the readings worse today .Sadly no records exist on findings of present state of air the Kandyans breathe.
The most recent comprehensive study was done way back in 2001 till 2005 and the study found out that the levels of pollution were far higher than the readings from the Fort Monitoring Station. Since then the research have been incomplete and partial resulting in sketchy data to say the least.
One clear fact is that the records of Kandy hospital which depicts increase in Chronic Pulmonary Disease [COPD] among children which could be related to the worsening air quality.
Study done in 2001 revealed that 40% of pollution indicators were over the gazetted air quality standards and the pollution indicators of Colombo exceed only in 10% of such standards even today.
2001 would show high levels of particle concentration, Sulfur Dioxide as well as unburnt petrol .And the figures of today are only a guess work at best. The only concrete positive factor which occurred since then has been the arrival of 4 –stroke trishaws replacing the gas guzzling 2 stroke version but on the other hand the number of trishaws in town area has gone up in multiple times.
A study conducted in 2011 which was limited to limited parameters would discover that AQI [air quality indicators] in Kandy town area was more than 50 points which is comparatively high as a figure.
The situation since then could only have gotten worse as no visible tangible steps were not take as of now.
Congestion in town area has reached chronic proportions as the number of vehicles have rocketed up. No practical steps have come up to reduce the congestion by either improving on the flow of traffic or restrict vehicle movements to the town center .Kandy ,being situated in a basin surrounded by mountains has few options by way of widening the roads .Thus the only viable solution looks to be the restriction option.
Srilanka pulls in more than 1.6 million tourists and Kandy is a stopover for most of them at least for a day and the UNESCO ranking of World Heritage Site could be at risk if the trend in pollution continues unabated and unchecked.
Only a drastic strategy seems to take the pollution off the town and one that envisages severe restrictions on vehicular traffic would stand as the best option.