As the spread of the new coronavirus progresses in Mexico, the main avenues of its capital appear with less traffic, which would be a relief for a city that lives permanently with a dense cloud of smog.
But the reduction in the use of the 5.8 million cars that circulate in the City of Mexico is insufficient to reduce high levels of environmental pollution if greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, do not decrease, experts warn.
“The emissions generated at the Mexico City airport, the cargo and public transport trucks that burn the worst diesel available, open-air garbage dumps are other very important polluting sources”, says Carlos Álvarez, president of the NGO México, Comunicación y Ambiente.
The specialist also points out water heaters, petrochemical solvents used daily in open areas or emissions from a refinery in the neighboring state of Hidalgo, about 90 kilometers north of the capital, as sources of contamination.
In Mexico City, one of the most polluted metropolises in the world, pollution affects the quality of life of the 22 million people that inhabit the capital and its vast conurbation, which includes neighboring entities such as the State of Mexico.
In May of last year, the megalopolis experienced several days of environmental alert that forced the authorities to suspend classes in schools and restrict outdoor activities.
“This season of the year is a period known as the ‘ozone season’, where low wind and limited rainfall weather conditions keep pollutant concentrations in the Valley of Mexico “, says Carlos Samayoa, coordinator of Sustainable Mobility and Air Quality at Greenpeace Mexico.
Behind that grayish cloud that daily clouds the horizon of the city, are other factors such as industries, the continuous recorded forest fires at this time of year in neighboring communities, the heat and activity of the Popocatépetl volcano.
“Although it rained and hailed in some areas of the capital a few days ago, it was not enough to clean the atmosphere, because the pollutants came from elsewhere and caused us to have poor air quality“says Agustín García, researcher at the Center for Atmospheric Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
The slowdown in global economic activity due to the pandemic has already had a significant impact on the environment, but Mexico still does not benefit from these positive indirect effects.
The first country in reducing its pollution rates was precisely China, the world’s largest pollutant and place of origin of COVID-19, in December.
Poor air quality is also linked with the premature death throughout Mexico of at least 48,000 people per year, among infants and older adults, according to the National Institute of Public Health.
“If a person has been exposed to contamination, their defenses may be lower, so it is appropriate to take the recommendation to stay home,” warns Víctor Páramo, coordinator of the governmental Environmental Commission of the Megalopolis.
The bicycle, an option
In full health contingency, traveling by bicycle is an alternative to circumvent public transport, and thereby reduce the risk of contracting diseases such as COVID-19.
In cities like Bogotá, New York and Wuhan (the Chinese city where the coronavirus arose), The use of this human-powered transport has multiplied and temporary bicycle lanes have been implemented to avoidr, if possible, contact between people.
The Bicitekas civil association has also proposed to apply this initiative in Mexico City, although still without response from the government.
“We proposed to create 300 kilometers of temporary bicycle lanes to allow people who have to go outside for economic reasons, can be mobilized in a safer way in health terms“says Areli Carreón, founder of Bicitekas.
Facing the pandemic, which in Mexico left 1,510 infected and 50 deceased until this Thursday, environmental activists raise the bicycle as an option to decongest public transport, reduce car use and improve air quality.
“I believe faithfully that the future is made for the bicycle, we need to change the way we move, with or without coronavirus”Carreón concludes.