Heal Our City, Make it a Better Place
BY HEGHINAR MELKOM MELKOMIAN
Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into an environment that causes disorder and harm to the ecosystem. There are many forms of pollution, such as Air pollution, Water pollution, Soil contamination, Littering, Radioactive contamination, Noise pollution, Light pollution, Visual pollution and Thermal pollution.
I have never heard of the last four types of pollution but the word “air pollution” sounds as natural to my ear as my name. Even though we have witnessed numerous devastating earthquakes and hurricanes throughout the world in the past two decades, I believe air pollution is one of the greatest hazards of the 20th and 21st centuries. Ever since I remember, scientists have been warning people and governments that air pollution damages the ozone layer, which is a layer in Earth’s atmosphere containing high concentrations of ozone (O3).
Even though pollution comes from both natural and man made sources, human beings are to be blamed for the rapidly thinning ozone layer and also its already non-existing parts. One of the leading causes of air pollution is motor vehicle emissions. Ozone pollution causes many diseases, including respiratory and cardiovascular and throat inflammation. Undesirable air quality can kill many organisms including humans.
Those living in Armenia and other small countries are just beginning to understand what air pollution really means. Even though in Armenia there are standards for hazardous air pollutant emissions from factories and vehicles, this is not a solution to the issue. Having realized the deadly consequences of the constantly increasing pollutants, parallel to boosting their economies, governments of more developed countries also develop projects aimed at restoring and preserving their ecosystems, such as increasing their urban forests.
A collection of trees growing within a populated area form an urban forest. As we all know from our ecology lessons at school, trees and plants filter air, water, sunlight, provide shelter and moderate the local climate by slowing wind and storm water, provide shading – thus helping conserve energy- and are critical in cooling the urban heat island effect. Leaf stomata, the pores on the leaf surface, take in polluting gases which are then absorbed by water inside the leaf.
We all know this and so do Armenia’s authorities and ecologists and even schoolchildren. However, instead of taking care of our already existing urban forests and enlarging them, we are witnessing their elimination. Ever since Armenia gained independence 19 years ago we have witnessed the tearing down of many urban forests: the green territory which once used to surround the Opera house has been replaced with cafés; most of the territory of the “Karen Demirjyan” park is also covered with cafés; and today you can find more concrete than grass and trees in “Oghakadzev” “park”. Should I also mention “Victory” park or I have already made my point here? The list of similar “mistakes” goes on and on and on and it seems as if our decision making bodies have no idea about the hazards that await us in the very near future.
Several days ago, on my way to work, I noticed that a section of the territory adjacent to Victor Hambadzumian’s statue had been covered for construction works and a bulldozer was digging the ground. My first thought was, “I wonder what kind of a café they intend to build here?” You think this is negative thinking? No, in Armenia this is realism! This little urban forest in the city center is absolutely beautiful: trees and grass surround a small observatory. Over the past years our authorities have been boasting about developing tourism in Armenia. I think this place is an ideal tourist attraction spot, but I guess our government bodies would disagree with me.
When will we understand the magnitude of the damage we are causing to our city and the health of its residents? Why can’t our wisdom and foresight prevail over the lucrative business of café plantation? Do we have to wait until some international organization implementing a health project in Armenia announces that the quantity of air pollutants in the city is above internationally acceptable limits and remind us that this in turn leads not only to severe health problems in adults but has been shown to be a factor in the birth of physically and mentally disabled children? Do we need the West or the East or the South and the North to give us directions on how to live? Why are we waiting for someone to come and tell us what we already know?
Will my story help change anything? I don’t know! But I sure do hope so. I hope someone will step up and renovate and maintain one of our still-existing parks. When two years ago the Boghossian family took on the renovation and maintenance of Lovers’ Park, many people argued that the funds could have been spent on other vital issues, such as allocating drinking water to villages. However, the fact that thousands of couples, families and single people visit the park regularly is proof that we crave for green spaces. Today Lovers’ Park is one of the very few territories in Yerevan that contains grass and plants new trees. If we continue at this pace I am sure that all those who were against the construction of the park will bless the Boghossian family for granting us at least one corner of green space.
It is still not too late to wake up and take a step back. It is not too late to undo what has been done. If Armenia continues at this pace it will find its name in the Blacksmith Institute’s annual list of world’s worst polluted places. The Blacksmith Institute annually issues a list of the world’s worst polluted places and in the 2007 issue the ten top nominees were located in Azerbaijan, China, India, Peru, Russia, Ukraine and Zambia. In Franklin D. Roosevelt’s own words, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people”.