Air pollution in Georgia: Available data and the population’s perceptions

Lung cancer, strokes, and heart attacks can all be caused by air pollution, a problem that affects millions of people daily. How aware is the population of Georgia about this problem, and how important do people find the issue?

In the December 2017 CRRC/NDI survey, pollution was the second most commonly named “infrastructural” issue, with 23% of the population choosing it in the respective show card. Only roads were named more often, by 33%. Approximately equal shares of men and women named pollution: 25% of women and 20% of men; similarly, there was no difference in the frequency of naming this issue by age.

Settlement type does make a difference, though. While 42% of people living in the capital reported in 2017 that pollution was the most important infrastructural issue, 26% of people living in other urban settlements did. This option was chosen much less often by the rural population (11%) and by people living in predominantly ethnic minority settlements (5%).  Perceptions of the importance of this issue have been consistent  both nationally and in different settlement types since CRRC and NDI have started asking the question.

The public’s concern with pollution makes sense. Levels of air pollution in Georgia are higher than what is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). PM2.5 is particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter smaller than 2.5 µm. By comparison, the average diameter of a human hair is 50 to 70 µm. PM2.5 is considered the deadliest type of pollution as it is smaller than other types and can do much more harm to the human body. According to the latest available information, PM2.5 was recorded at 25 in Tbilisi in 2015. The level that the WHO recommends is 10. Anywhere from 12.1 to 35.4 is considered to be in the moderate range.

The government of Georgia has not ignored the problem. The Law of Georgia on Ambient Air Protection was adopted in 1999 to deal with air pollution, and was amended a number of times since. Recently larger, more environmentally friendly buses have been integrated into Tbilisi’s public transport system, a step toward a greener city. In addition, the excise tax on older cars, which cause a greater amount of pollution than newer ones in general, have increased, thus encouraging the import of greener vehicles. Moreover, vehicle inspections for large vehicles started again this year after a 10 year hiatus, and it is planned that these will become mandatory for all vehicles from 2019.

More can be done, and there are some potential improvements that can lead to a decrease in the number of cars on the roads, and therefore improve air quality. Public transport should be more efficient, which can be, in part, accomplished through optimizing routes and timetables. Making cities more pedestrian and bike-friendly, and increasing awareness of the benefits of walking and car sharing could also ameliorate the situation. Clearly, the government would have to back many of these changes.

While the government has taken some steps to reduce air pollution, quite radical steps are still needed in Georgia before it reaches a healthy level by WHO standards. The issue is important to the Georgian public, and particularly to the population of Tbilisi.

To learn more about CRRC surveys, visit our Online Data Analysis portal.


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