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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What Are The Most Polluted Cities On Earth? Is It Even Safe To Breath The Air In Indian And Chinese Cities?

Chongqing: bring a gas mask

The first time I was in Delhi, in 1970, the air was so unbelievably filthy that I got out of town as fast as I could. Like many cities-- Los Angeles and Bangkok being two good examples-- Delhi is a lot cleaner now. But not so much, apparently, as I thought it was when I was there last year. According to the World Bank in 2004 it still had the second worst air pollution of any city in the world. Numero uno was Cairo. Here's the list of the 20 most polluted:

Twelve are in China and five are in India. I'm finishing up on Robyn Meredith's NY Times best selling book on the economic changes in India and China in the last two decades, The Elephant And The Dragon and she has a lot to say about the overwhelming pollution in both countries.
Nothing can prepare visitors for the pollution in China... One of the worst places to breathe on the planet is the world's biggest city: Chongqing, China, with a population of 30 million people counting the exurbs, about the same number of people as live in the entire state of California. There the New China coexists with the Old China: skyscrapers and construction sites decorate downtown, but scrawny bong-bong men wait for work on street corners. Bong-bong men are paid sixty cents an hour to ferry heavy loads-- from building materials to groceries-- up and down the city's hilly streets using bamboo poles slung over their shoulders. They must have powerful lungs, not just strong legs: the city is half dark most days. Sunlight barely reaches the ground, dimmed by thick, gray smog. Skyscrapers just three blocks away are mere outlines because of air pollution. Emerging from the inside of a building onto the streets prompts one's eyes to water. The air is filthy but that is not all. The raw sewage produced by 30 million people-- 30 million-- is dumped straight into the Yangtze River as it flows past. The countryside nearby is not the place to go for fresh air: there you notice that the leaves of trees-- along with everything else-- are coated with black dust from the coal mines and factories in the region. More acid rain falls on Chongqing than anywhere else on earth.

...Nearly a third of China's rivers are so polluted that they aren't even fit for agriculture or industrial use, according to Chinese government statistics. Village doctors have documented increased cancer rates near polluting factories and chemical plants. Untreated waste water dumped into China's famed Yangtse River is killing marine life and turning its water "cancerous," according to Xinhua, the state-controlled media outlet.

...Lack of enforcement of environmental laws is also a big problem in India. Its capital city, Delhi, used to have pollution levels ten times higher than the nation's legal limit, mostly because of the high-pollution taxis, trucks and buses on its roads. Delhi has the world's worst air pollution in 2002, but managed to clean up its filthy air after being taken to task by India's Supreme Court. The overhaul began in 1997. Some steps were long overdue: the city finally banned lead gas. However belatedly, the city reduced pollution from Delhi's power plants by installing scrubber to clean up smokestack emissions and requiring them to burn cleaner coal. It banished motorized rickshaws and buses built before 1990 from the roads. In 1998, the court required all city buses to run on compressed natural gas (CNG)-- a cleaner fuel than gasoline-- by 2001... Just 10 percent of sewage is treated in India, with the rest dumped into waterways, along with industrial pollution. India's rivers-- even the holy Ganges-- have become sewers.

I still remember leaving a restaurant in one town after dinner and seeing some kids behind it filling up the "bottled water" from a garden hose.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Travel Warnings Go Up For Mexico-- Should You Pay Attention?

Roland on a Guanajuato backstreet

This evening the U.S. Government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issued a warning, specifically to young Americans looking for a good time in Mexico, to avoid Tijuana and Rosarito, just south of San Diego. With spring break coming up, college students traditionally flock to Mexico resort towns. The ATF thinks the drug-related violence should make them change their plans.
The bureau's Los Angeles field division said Monday that it discourages travel to Tijuana and Rosarito Beach, noting that both cities just south of San Diego have witnessed a lot of drug-fueled violence. Rosarito has long been a mecca for Southern California students on spring break.

The warning goes a step further than one issued by the State Department last month advising travelers to Mexico to avoid areas of prostitution and drug-dealing and to take other commonsense precautions.

I just got back from an awesome trip to San Miguel de Allende, where there's pretty much no violence, drug related or otherwise. It's as peaceful a town as you're likely to find anywhere. And not the kind of place I'd expect to see many spring break partyin' fools either. There are some pretty wild art galleries but... that's about as wild as it gets.

Seven months ago I was in Mexico City and that was pretty easygoing as well. I mean from what you read, Mexico sounds like the killing fields. Last week I did a post at DownWithTyranny about how catering to irrational gun worship in the U.S. has led to a dangerous deterioration of law and order south of the border. But over all, I found Mexico City just as safe as any other large city anywhere. If you're looking for trouble, you'll find it. If you're awake to the world around you, unless you run into some incredibly bad luck, you'll be fine. Same as in L.A. or Milan or Hong Kong.

Mexico has the 12th biggest economy in the world and the trade been the U.S. and Mexico-- the legal, non-drug, non-contraband weapons-- is almost a billion dollars a day. Our economic vitality and security is much more closely tied to Mexico than most Americans realize. And the drug cartel-related violence has a lot to do with this side of the border. The market for illegal drugs is here. And the heavy weapons that leaves the Mexican police unable to maintain law and order come from the U.S.

The Mexico Travel Board says the tourist destinations in Mexico are as safe as they've ever been and hotel occupancy rates were pretty strong in February: 73% in Cancun, 85% in the Riviera Maya, 78% in Puerto Vallarta.
Mexico remains a safe tourist destination and this is reflected in the 22.6 million international visitors that arrived in 2008, of which 18 million were Americans. This number represents a 5.9 percent increase from the previous year. Tourists who suffered any incidents were minimal.

The violence associated with drug trafficking is isolated in cities that are far away from tourism destinations. We suggest using common precautions as when traveling to any foreign country.

Q: Is Mexico an unsafe place to travel?

Mexico ranks tenth as an international travel destination in the world and is the number one international tourism destination for North Americans traveling abroad. Many tourists to the country are repeat visitors, which demonstrates that the vast majority of tourists are satisfied and leave with overwhelmingly positive impressions.

One other thing, the dollar/peso exchange rate was around one dollar for 10 pesos for many, many years. This year it went to 14 pesos for a dollar, making everything incredibly cheap(er) for tourists. And today it went over 15 pesos to the dollar!