Qalibaf Defends His Turf

Qalibaf Defends His Turf Qalibaf Defends His Turf

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has reiterated the municipality’s ability and willingness to lead the suffocating capital’s unending fight against air pollution, and challenged the Rouhani administration to do its part of the job to effectively put the issue to rest.

Speaking in live primetime TV program lat on Saturday, the beleaguered mayor dismissed the views and complaints of many environmentalists and experts that the increasing number of tall buildings and skyscrapers, especially on the western flank of the capital are contributing terribly well to the air pollution and toxic weather — a near permanent feature of the city that is home to almost 10 million permanent residents.

“If the tall buildings are the real culprits, then how do you explain the poor air quality of other metropolises, such as Isfahan, Arak, Mashhad, Yazd…?” he asked.

This is while nobody claims that tall buildings cause air pollution; the argument is that unrestrained construction of skyscrapers along Tehran’s western regions has effectively blocked the flow of winds that would have swept the smog away from the city.

To put it simply, the construction of large numbers of tall buildings, a development partly related to Qalibaf, is the main reason why Tehran experiences long and often uninterrupted spells of air pollution.

Furthermore, local environmental and city officials in Isfahan and Mashhad have also publicly singled out the presence of the tall steel and concrete monsters for the persisting air pollution in the key cities.

“We experience less and less clean days because the [Isfahan] municipality has failed to implement limits on the number of floors every building can have,” Fat’hollah Moein, a member of the Isfahan City Council, told the local news outlet Esfahan Emrooz last year.

Earlier this year, Shahnaz Danesh, head of the Natural Resources Department at Mashhad’s Ferdowsi University, pointed to the construction of tall buildings as symbols of how environmental laws are broken with immunity and blamed the skyscrapers for the long bouts of low air quality in the revered shrine city.

During a Cabinet meeting last week, President Hassan Rouhani, whose embattled government has been at the receiving end of the pollution blame game, called for immediate action to tackle the crisis and criticized the careless construction of towers across Tehran.

Hamed Mazaherian, deputy minister of roads and urban development, said the construction permits of towers in western Tehran that fail to pass environmental assessments must be revoked, but his choice of words clearly indicate that no official government directive has been issued to that effect.

  Open Challenge

Qalibaf repeated that he would be willing to step up and lead the charge against air pollution, “if the government assigns the right and responsibility [to the municipality].”

However, the mayor failed to elaborate on what he would do exactly to end the air pollution crisis if given charge. However, he was quick to remind viewers that the Department of Environment is the de facto leader of the fight against air pollution and stressed that his office would “carry out each and every government instruction given to it, even if we don’t necessarily agree with the measures.”

With a meager $52 million annual budget, the DOE whose chief Masoumeh Ebtekar is a vice president, has long struggled but failed to address the worsening environmental crisis visiting large portions of the country.

Qalibaf and the TM have come under attack by Tehran city councilors, with Mohammad Haqqani, head of the council’s environment committee, accusing the mayor of wasting public funds on building inner-city highways and costly flyovers and tunnels instead of developing and expanding the grossly inadequate public transportation.

“By building more roads and highways, the TM is basically inviting more people to use private vehicles,” the councilor claimed last week in the latest lethal salvo against the mayor and his decade-old plans and policies for the ever-expanding capital now home to more than 10 million people.

According to the city’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan, approved by the Tehran City Council in 2009, the public transportation infrastructure was supposed to have been expanded by 75% by the time the city’s population hit 10 million.

“We’re now way past the 10 million mark and the infrastructure has not even progressed 25%,” Haqqani complained.

Qalibaf responded by saying that the municipality has received neither the funds as stipulated by law for the public transport expansion nor one single bus from the previous and current administrations in the past six years.

“The city needs another 5,000 buses, but we’ve not even been given a budget to renovate the fleet, let alone expand it,” he retorted in the late night TV program.

He pointed to the expansion of the metro system and said that in his 10 years in office, the number of subway stations grew from 35 to 96.

“The municipality shouldered 93% of the costs, while legally the government should have paid half the expenses.”

  Root Cause

Tehran’s air pollution woes peak every year during winter, when a phenomenon known as temperature inversion — when cold underlies warmer air, essentially ‘capping’ pollutants and smog within city limits — occurs, shutting schools and locking people indoors.

The capital experienced 23 days of heavy pollution in December, with the air quality index consistently hovering above 130 that was unhealthy for the young, elderly and sick.

The AQI surpassed the 150 threshold twice, making the air toxic to every group.

Air quality has been improving since Saturday, and it registered an AQI of 42 on Monday morning — within the “good” limit based on World Health Organization standards.

However, Iranian media report that the air quality may drop again from Tuesday.

Air pollution has two sources: mobile sources, such as motor vehicles; and stationary sources, such as factories.

Experts are of the opinion that the five million vehicles that ply the streets of Tehran are singlehandedly responsible for a staggering 80% of the pollution, with factories in and around the city making up the rest.

About 800,000 tons of toxic pollutants are emitted into the air every year in Tehran.

Measures to tackle air pollution fall into two categories; reactive and proactive.

“Many believe because we need energy, our activities will inadvertently cause pollution, so they say we have to devise measures to improve air quality after pollutants have found their way into the air.

“However, some, such as myself, believe we need to reduce emission of pollutants from the source, meaning prevention of the decline in air quality in the first place,” the mayor told the TV program.