KEY POINTS

  • Pollution levels in Metro Manila plummeted amid the community quarantine
  • Parts of the metro are no longer covered in smog
  • The decrease can be attributed to the significant drop in vehicle activity

Air quality in Metro Manila appears to be significantly improving amid the enhanced community quarantine. In parts of the Metro, many are seeing clearer skies and fresher air.

Air pollution is a major killer that takes millions of lives all over the world each year. In the Philippines, about 120,000 Filipinos die from air pollution yearly.

However, a recent analysis of the air quality in Metro Manila shows that air pollutants significantly dropped, particularly in Quezon City, the largest of the 16 cities in Metro Manila. Typically, the particulate matter (PM) 2.5 levels at the Lung Center would be around 32 micrograms per normal cubic meters of air (ug/Ncm) at 4 in the morning. This dropped by more than half to 15.8 ug/Ncm a week before the lockdown was imposed and, even further to 13.3 ug/Ncm during the lockdown itself.

Similar patterns were also observed in places such as the busy EDSA-Muñoz where PM 2.5 levels also decreased. Of the air quality in the four locations being monitored by AirToday.ph, three are considered "good" while one is even considered "very good." 

"We have never seen this much decrease. During the weekends, there are drops in PM2.5 levels, but not like this," Dr. Mylene Cayetano of the Environmental Pollution Studies Laboratory of the University of the Philippines Diliman said. "With lesser human activities, the air quality really improved."

In other parts of the Metro, people have been observing clearer skies and fresher air as a result of the decrease in public transport and private vehicles in the streets. The view of Metro Manila also greatly improved, from being covered in smoke to showing off an impressive skyline, while major areas in the metro showed no signs of smog.

In a set of photos, the Sierra Madre mountain range, the longest mountain range in the country, can even be seen as the backdrop of Metro Manila, a sight that is rarely seen because of the pollution. 

With similar impacts to air quality happening in places like China and Italy, the question now is what could happen after the lockdowns are over and countries have to make up for the lost time. For instance, after the 2008-2009 global financial crash, carbon emissions increased by 5 to 10 percent due to the sudden boost in fossil fuel use.

As such, governments have to be careful about how they would jumpstart their economies without significantly harming the environment.