According to research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) the emissions from car exhausts are responsible for more deaths than road accidents. The WHO study which looked at data from Austria, France and Switzerland found that exposure to pollution caused an estimated 21,000 deaths a year in the three countries. In addition, the researchers calculated that car fumes caused 300,000 extra cases of bronchitis in children and 15,000 extra hospital admissions for heart disease made worse by pollution.
The health of the people in our cities depends on balancing the demand for private vehicles with other means of public transport,? said Mr. Klaus Toepfer. ?Innovative solutions are needed to reduce the pollution from car emissions and to minimise the congestion caused by cars.
The rapid increase in the number of cars has only made the problem worse. In 1950, there were only 70 million vehicles in the world and most of these were in Europe and America. Today, there are over 500 million and in many developing countries the annual growth rate is set to continue. In the 1970s and 1980s Delhi?s motor vehicle fleet grew at an astounding average of around 20 per cent. In China, the number of vehicles has almost doubled every five years. According to UNEP?s Global Environment Outlook, motor vehicles emit well over 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. These emissions account for more than 15 per cent of global fossil fuel carbon dioxide releases and represent a major contribution to global warming.
But the rapid expansion of private vehicles can be contained through more balanced transport policies and better land use planning. For example, since 1974 Curitiba in Brazil has managed to design an integrated bus system which induced 25 per cent of its car commuters back into buses. With express and speedy buses operating mostly along busways or exclusive segregated tracks almost 75 per cent of the commuters in Curitiba now travel by public transport.
The car ban in Italy is the latest in a series of moves by local authorities all over the world to reduce vehicular pollution and congestion. Earlier in the new year, the city of Athens launched a metro system which city authorities were quoted as saying will cut choking fumes in one of Europes most polluted capital cities by 30% and reduce traffic volumes by 10%. Similarly, in South East Asia, Bangkok has a new weapon in the war against congested streets and pollution. Bangkoks Skytrain began regular commercial service in December last year.
Well planned and integrated transport policies are the best way to balance the use of private vehicles with the need for public transport, said Mr. Klaus Toepfer. In the case of Italy, the Ministry of Environment must be applauded for setting an important precedent. The Sunday car ban gives the city back to its citizens.
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