The smoggiest of all capitals

TRAVELLERS flying into Tehran were recently denied their usual view of the sprawling metropolis and its majestic mountain backdrop. Instead they found themselves staring into a thick brown haze. Somewhere down in the murk a lot of old people and asthmatics were dying.

Shielded from the cleansing winds by the Alborz massif, teeming with cars and encircled by cement factories and power stations, Tehran has long been notorious for pollution, particularly during dry winters of still air such as this year’s. But air quality has recently been worse, for longer, than ever before. A Tehran city councillor recently claimed for his capital nothing less than a “new world record” in air pollution.

A leaked statistic from the health ministry said that 3,600 people had died from air pollution in Tehran in the first nine months of the year. At the peak of the latest crisis, hospital admissions were said to have risen by at least a third and the corridors of local clinics were full of wheezing old people and pregnant women waiting for oxygen.

For a while, the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an impression of concern. Schools were closed and the number of cars permitted to move around the city cut by half, while crop sprayers soared over the city centre in an effort to thin the aerial mush. Inspectors duly detected a slight improvement in air quality, but complaints from shopkeepers and bazaar traders soo… >>>

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