The city of Santiago de Cali, or Cali as it is popularly called, knows it’s blessed.
Surrounded by national parks and being the only major Colombian city with access to the Pacific coast, the air quality of this city of over 2.3 million residents has regularly been among the best among four major Colombian cities.
“The air quality is not bad in the city and the breeze and the wind helps us a lot,” Secretary of Health of Cali, Alexánder Durán said in a news story by El Pais.
What has also helped has been the city’s decision to implement integrated strategies to reduce emissions from transport, agricultural burning and industry.
Nonetheless, as in the majority of urban conurbations in the world, the city still struggles to meet WHO Air Quality Guidelines, and, in May 2017, a Department of National Planning study revealed that 1,317 Cali residents died each year from exposure to air pollution.
One of its main causes for concern is growing traffic, which produces 23,767 tonnes of nitrogen oxide emissions, 374,512 tonnes of carbon monoxide and 1,450 tonnes of PM2.5 (ultrafine particule pollutants), as well as 90 per cent of greenhouse gases that originate in Cali.
“Cali’s automobile fleet has grown a lot since 2005, and is just under 13 years old on average,” said the leader of Air Quality Group, DAGMA (Administrative Department of Environmental Management), Gisela Arizabaleta Moreno.
She says the city uses state-of-the-art equipment in its air quality monitoring system, a main pillar in decision-making; the information from this system is also reported online.
Its air quality management decisions are guided by both a Clean Air Plan, which was developed with the support of the Clean Air Institute, and its Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Plan.
“In the last few years, The Mayor’s Office of Santiago de Cali, through the DAGMA, has been working intensively on the implementation of technologies, conducting control and surveillance operations and training for businessmen with the aim of reducing emissions and ensuring that the city has good air quality standards,” said Arizabaleta Moreno.
Major city actions include the scrapping of around 4,000 buses and the introduction of cleaner vehicles to MIO; enhancing the city’s Integrated Public Transport System that includes an aerial cable car system; promoting the use of bicycles as alternative means of transport; an efficient driving training programme aimed at drivers of private vehicles and taxis in the city; and encouraging the switch from diesel vehicles to electric.
At a recent Clean Air and Bike Day, held in conjunction with World Car Free Day, Mayor Maurice Armitage described the measures Cali already takes to encourage cycling and multimodal transport, among them, improving cycling infrastructure, better linkages to public transport systems and public education.
“Consistent with these activities, in the Comprehensive Urban Mobility Plan – PIMU, we are aiming by 2028 to reduce to 20 per cent the emissions generated by the transport sector with respect to 2015 levels, and as a goal at the end of my Mayor’s Office I hope to deliver over 200 kilometres of bicycle-friendly infrastructure,” he said.
“These are bets to make Santiago de Cali a green and sustainable city; that’s why, as Mayor, I accept the WHO challenge to join the BreatheLife campaign,” he said.
According to the City Mobility Survey, about 200,000 people already cycle, with bicycles making up 6.1 per cent of the trips taken in the city every day. Also, on Sundays, more that 25,000 people use the bicycle routes for exercise and leisure.
The BreatheLife campaign welcomes Santiago de Cali as it joins other cities, as well as regions and countries, in their bids to cut deaths, health impacts and climate risks posed by air pollution, which kills 7 million people around the world.
Follow their journey: