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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Essay on Solution to Air Pollution Problem in Tehran

Tehran is the capital city and the largest urban area of the Islamic republic of Iran with a population of 8,429,807 (Tehran, 2011). Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranks 56th around the world (World's largest urban…, n.d.); thus, the city is the least expensive capital city in the world based on the Cost-of-living index in 2008, and it presents the best value of currency globally (Tehran remains least, n.d.; Top 10 Cheapest cities, n.d.). The primary language in Tehran is the Persian dialect, with 98% native speakers (Tehran, 2011) and locals identify themselves as Persians (Tehran, 2011).

The city also ranks as one of the largest cities in Western Asia and 19th in the whole world (Tehran Urbanization, 2010). At the beginning of the 20th century, Tehran’s population was estimated to be around 700,000 but the Iran-Iraq war in 1986 brought the population to 6 million (Tehran Urbanization, 2010). The migration has been the key reason for the explosive growth, which is “more than the sum of the country’s next five major metropolitan cities combined” (Tehran Urbanization, 2010). Presently, Tehran is the most populated city in Iran with a population of more than 12 million.  Most of the Iranians are living in densely populated urban areas.

The concentration of the population in urban areas creates a number of problems for the City of Tehran.  One of these problems is the air pollution. The severe air pollution in Tehran is considered the primary reason why the number of individuals who are suffering from pulmonary illnesses has increased in the past years.

The research seeks to gather information regarding the population movement in Tehran, Iran and its impact on the environment, particularly the rise in the level of air pollution.  It also seeks to collect data regarding the economy of the city and how this contributes to the air pollution.  It also seeks to gather data regarding the transportation sector of Tehran, Iran and how it contributes to air pollution.  It also seeks to collect information about the environmental conditions in the city.

Identification of the Problem and the Determinants of the Problem
Globalization has helped in the urbanization of many cities in the world.  In Tehran, globalization helped in the growth of the city of Tehran.  However, the government of Tehran has failed in urban management and was unable to meet the demands of globalization (Peter Hall, p.31).  As a result, it is now faced with a serious problem of air pollution.

The severe air pollution has made breathing very difficult for the residents of Tehran.  The smog from the city makes its citizens’ breathing difficult and is the cause of lung cancer and cardiopulmonary diseases. It has been studied that 27 people die daily from ailments caused by the air pollution and 3,600 people have been dead in a single month due to difficulty in breathing and suffocation (Iran smog, 2007).

In order to address the problem of air pollution, it is necessary to identify the first the possible causes of the problem.  There are two basic sources of air emission sources in Tehran.  The first is from stationary sources which are the factories, businesses and even residential areas.  According to the Environmental Software and Services, the air pollution is brought about by the over-concentration of factories in Tehran.  Since Tehran is the most populated city in Iran, a number of businesses have established themselves in the main capital hoping to generate sales for their businesses.

The second source is the mobile sources which are cars.  According to a study conducted by Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization (IEPO), the origin of the problem of air pollution in Tehran is the cars that flood the city main streets on a daily basis (, 2010, p.1).   The Tehran way of life “relies heavily on private cars, buses, motorcycles, and taxis, and is one of the most car dependent cities in the world” (Tehran, 2011). According to the Tehran Municipality Environment and Sustainable Development Office, the city has a capacity for 700,000 registered cars yet 3 million roam its streets on a daily basis (Tehran’s overpopulation, n.d.).  According to the IEPO, 80% of the pollution emissions come from the cars (, 2010, p.1).  The problem of air pollution is even made worse by the continued use of old and aging cars which fail to meet the emission regulations.

Blaming car owners for the city’s air pollution problems is, however, not the solution to the problem.  In fact, car owners have no choice but to use their cars on a daily basis considering the “poor public transportation network” in Iran (Environmental Software Services, 2011, p.1). Since buses and other public transport systems do not reach the major areas in the city where people either work or reside, many Iranians are forced to use their private cars or hire taxis.

Compounding Tehran’s air pollution problem is its geographical location.  Tehran is bounded by a mountain range that stops the flow of the humid wind to the main capital.  The mountain range also prevents the polluted air from being carried away from the city.  Thus, during winter, the lack of wind and cold air causes the polluted air to be trapped within the city.

Assessment of the Impact of the Problem
Air pollution is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.  One reason is that it can cause illness or even death to a significant number of Iranians residing in Iran.  In fact, in 2007, Hadi Heydarzadeh, the director of Tehran’s Clear Air Committee, has reported that air pollution is directly or indirectly responsible for the death of 3,600 individuals in just a month in Tehran (, 2007, p.1).

Aside from the respiratory and cardiac illness-related deaths, the problem of air pollution should also not be taken for granted in view of the obligation of the government of Iran to provide its population with a clear and safe air to breathe.  It has the duty to protect the general welfare by taking action at the alarming air pollution levels in Tehran.  It is therefore, primarily responsible for controlling the level of air pollution in Tehran.  Moreover, protecting the health of its people has economic impact considering that a sick population deprives the city of the manpower and workforce needed by the city.

From a macro-prospective, poor urban development planning is the primary reason for the air pollution problems faced by Iran.  Tehran’s thrust towards suburbanization resulted in the physical deterioration of the city’s urban landscape. “The expansion of businesses into residential areas, an increase in traffic regulations, changes to the city’s administrative boundaries, a buoyant development industry, the availability of land and cheap fuel, rising social polarization, and citizens’ expectation for higher standards of living all combined to encourage a process of suburbanization that precipitated the decline in the physical fabric of the city’s center most areas” (Rezai & Esmaeily, 2010).

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The Iranian government understands the impact of the air pollution problem to the health of its people and its economy.  The Tehran Comprehensive Plan (TCP) was enacted as early as 1968 to identify problems of density in the city centre, pollution, commercial activities, transportation, unemployment, and migration into the city (Kazemipour & Mirzaie, 2005). While TCP has been given with enough attention, the solutions have  “extended the city limits to reduce concentration in built-up spaces, and established ten districts of 500,000 people, each with its commercial, industrial and high-rise buildings” (Kazemipour & Mirzaie, 2005). The ten districts have been subdivided into neighborhoods of 15-30,000 people, complete with their own amenities.  Through the new system in urban planning and soaring oil prices, land appropriation and acquisition have been the most lucrative industry in Tehran. It has resulted in construction of embassies, cultural and recreational centers, built on 554 hectares of Tehran land and employment for 189,000 people.

Assessment of Government Interventions
A number of strategies have been implemented to address the problem of air pollution.  The Iranian government has attempted to impose traffic restrictions on the streets by limiting the number of cars and closing of schools, colleges, universities and government offices in an effort to reduce the traffic congestion.  It has also sprayed water on the city to help reduce the public’s suffering from air pollution.  However, these efforts have not been very effective considering that these are short-term solutions which do not address the heart of the problem.

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bager Qalibaf said that traffic restrictions are temporary measures which will not aid in reducing air pollution in Tehran. He said that people will continue to use their private cars unless the public transport system actually improves.  If the reason why there are so many cars on the streets is the insufficient public transport system then improving the public transport system may help convince the public to use it and rely on it more often.

In line with the goal of improving the public transport system, the Iranian government has completed the construction of the first metro system which carries thousands of commuters everyday to their destinations.  In addition, the development of the bus rapid transit (BRT) system has also helped lessen the air pollution.  As of 2011, the BRT has a network of 100 kilometers and can transport 1.8 million passengers on a daily basis.

Moreover, Tehran has also established bicycle lanes which bicycle users can traverse giving them a comfortable alternative to using their cars.  The construction of parks full of trees where people can meet and talk is also a good solution.

In addition to the government’s efforts, it has also tapped the private sector to participate in controlling the air pollution.  It has encouraged vehicle owners to use natural compressed gas instead of petrol engines. The government has also raised people’s awareness regarding the dangers of air pollution. It has installed the Pollution Indicator Boards around the city to monitor the level of particulate matter PM 10, nitrogen oxide (NO2), ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO) (Rezai & Esmaeily, 2010). The city has also established the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), a general indicator of air quality based on the measurements of the abovementioned pollutants (Rezai & Esmaeily, 2010).

The efforts of the government have started to bear fruit.  In January 2011, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has commended Iran for its efforts by nominating Tehran for 2011 Sustainable Transport Award.  Though the city is known for its traffic and air pollution, the recent moves by Tehran has been recognized.  According to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, Tehran “stands out as a model city in the region.”  The said body acknowledged the efforts made “improve quality of life by having an integrated, available, safe, easy, comfortable, and clear transportation system, delivered within limited sources” (Jennifer Hattam, 2011, p.1).  However, there are still so many things to be done to reduce the air pollution in Tehran to acceptable levels.

Comprehensive Policy to Control Air Pollution
There are still many things that needed to be done by Iranian government to finally control the air pollution to manageable levels.  With the problems caused by population and lack of urban planning, Tehran will have to catch up its years of neglect.  The goals will never be easy to achieve and the efforts will take years before the goals can be realized.  However, the effort by Iranian government to control air pollution is receiving positive reports from the international community.

Though urbanization is being viewed as the primary reason for the rise of the air pollution levels in Iran, it could have been avoided with the proper urban planning in Tehran.  As of now, the future seems to be bright insofar as controlling air pollution is concerned.  The government has proven that it is willing to take the initiative to make the air clean and safe for the people of Iran. However, it is necessary to establish a comprehensive policy so that these initiatives will be effective.

First, establish an air quality standard.  The environment officials in Tehran should collect data about its present air quality.  It should make an effort to improve the air quality by reducing the level of toxic chemicals in the air.  Even if slow steps shall be taken what is important is that every year an effort is made to improve the air quality.

Second, the action plan to improve air quality standard should be comprehensive.  Meaning the initiative should not only come from the government but the active participation of the different businesses and private citizens should be encouraged.  The task of making the air clean and safe is an enormous task and it will require the joint effort and cooperation of the different sectors in Tehran.

Third, the government should set aside political bickering and work together to combat air pollution.  The subway may plan an integral part in reducing the air pollution.  If existing lines can be extended or if new lines can be constructed to other locations in Tehran then the public transport system can significantly improved.  However, the parliament has refused to release the necessary funding that will help fast track the improvement in Tehran’s public transport system (Maryam Sinaiee, 2010, p.1).

Fourth, it should impose economic sanctions against the car producers and car buyers.  Slightly higher taxes should be imposed on individuals who buy new cars.  At the same time, penalty should be imposed on individuals who are driving cars beyond 15 years.  There should also be incentives given to individuals so they could be encouraged to buy cars and to use fuel which are environment-friendly.

Fifth, continue the construction of bicycle lanes and parks so the people may be encouraged to walk or to use bicycles in traveling short distances.  The current bike rental program being implemented is also a good move.  The construction of parks with trees helps having clean air.

Fifth, get active participation of the private sector and even the private citizens.  Coercing them to comply with the air quality standard will not be effective unless they understand what it means to help promote clean air.  Thus, the imposition of traffic restrictions, spraying of water in Tehran, and the declaration of holidays are merely short-term fixes which have no long-term impact unless the people truly understand what it means to have a clean air and the consequences of having a high air pollution concentration in the atmosphere.

Tehran as the capital city and the largest urban area of Iran has been faced with difficulties regarding urban planning and development. Proper urban planning and management could have avoided the situation it is faced today.  Though the government is showing that it is doing its best to combat air pollution, there is a need to adopt a comprehensive policy so that its efforts should be integrated under one policy.  In this case, it is not enough that temporary solutions are adopted.  Instead, the government should establish an air quality standard and set goals based on that standards to reduce the harmful chemicals in the air, improve the public transport system, inform the private sector and the private individuals about the harmful effects of air pollution on health and the strategies that they could use to help reduce air pollution.

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