Air Pollution in Tbilisi: What the Data Says
With the recent debate on traffic safety, it may also be a good time to highlight the issue of air pollution in Tbilisi – especially as municipal elections are coming up, and citizens (and candidates) may ask themselves what issues the election should focus on.
The data is clear: citizens care about pollution and the environment. In the June 2016 survey that CRRC conducted for NDI-Georgia, pollution was seen as a key concern for residents of Tbilisi. In the capital, 38% named it as one of the most important infrastructural issues, placing it ahead of all other issues related to infrastructure. In general, all generations care, but the young a bit more. In Tbilisi, about 40% of those under 36 years of age mentioned pollution as an issue compared to 32% of those 56 and older.
Politically, the topic also seems to resonate, though less strongly with voters who tend towards the big parties. Only 33% of Georgian Dream voters and 35% of United National Movement voters reported that pollution was the number one infrastructural issue in Tbilisi (Note: the party landscape has changed since the survey). This may in part be a result of the small sample size once you do crosstabs, but could also suggest that the environment and pollution may be an issue to mobilize and rally voters around. Supporting this contention is the fact that 40% of undecided voters in Tbilisi named the issue as the most important one in Tbilisi.
Yet how bad is the situation really? It is not so easy to find out. The government does collect data at three measuring stations that have been donated by Japan, but it is made available one day late, in PDFs, and even those who have interpreted lots of data will need a significant amount of time to decipher what is going on.
A very quick glance on some random days in February suggests that the pollution in Tbilisi repeatedly exceeds limits that are considered healthy – often by a multiple.
Whatever the policy prescription, one sensible next step for citizens and parties to demand, and for the government to take, is to make this data accessible straightaway, live. Having the data, citizens could decide on what to expose themselves to, when. To have a good debate on policy, we need good data. Thus, a sensible suggestion to politicians whenever and wherever you meet them is to request that public pollution data be made available in real time.