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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Breathe in, breathe out: from best to worst

This blog usually looks at ways of learning about the world without having to get on a plane. But this time let's compare air pollution in the world's cleanest country, Solomon Islands (once my home) and London (now my home). Words from Nicola Baird.

Guardian story here. The worst countries for toxic air were India,
with 133.7 deaths for every 100,000 people blamed on air pollution,
and Mynamar, where the rate is 230.6 deaths. 
From the Guardian:
People in the UK are 64 times as likely to die of air pollution as those in Sweden and twice as likely as those in the US, claims the World Health Organisation. 
 Britain, which has a mortality rate for air pollution of 25.7 for every 100,000 people, was also beaten by Brazil and Mexico – and it trailed far behind Sweden, the cleanest nation in the EU (a small irony as in Jan 2017 the Swedes were claiming that Stockholm's air pollution was as bad as Beijing). The US rate was 12.1 for every 100,000, Brazil’s was 15.8 and Mexico’s was 23.5, while Argentina was at 24.6.


This is my screensaver - a rural Solomon Island scene
about a 40 minute walk from the 
capital, Honiara's city
centre. Note that in the humid tropics even Londoners
like me walk slowly - and in the Solomons few people
can afford to own a vehicle (or are old enough to drive).
Good air v bad air
Years ago - when I was 26 - I spent two years working in the wonderful Pacific island country, Solomon Islands for Voluntary Service Overseas (the best thing I've ever done!). The country was gorgeous - dubbed "as beautiful above as it is below" thanks to its tropical forested islands, sunny skies, fresh trade winds by the coast, biodiversity and vibrant, fish-packed coral reefs. On working trips away from the capital, Honiara, I often saw dolphins, wild white cockatos, huge butterflies and flocks of fruit bats.

Solomon Islanders are rightly very proud of their country's bounty. I remember at one point the Prime Minister Solomon Mamaloni suggested bottling their tropical forest oxygen and selling it to richer countries. The idea never came off, because air is air...

See this piece in the New Scientist from 27 Jan 1996.

But 25 years or so have past and now everyone's talking about dirty air - even me on the Jerry Vine show when he did a special broadcast this week from the Nags Head Market, Islington. And I'm currently working on two clean air projects for clients. Dirty air talk is hard to avoid when you live in London which is packed with diesel vehicles emitting particulates that are damaging everyone's health. Killing us slowly...

So what's Solomon Islands like? Few people drive in the Solomons, and there aren't many roads. There are no trains and a rare haphazard (private) bus service (more like the occasional truck) on the country's main islands. This means that people tend to cram into vehicles, go by boat or - more likely - walk. As a result on 18 May, 2017 the local media were able to announce something amazing:
It’s official: Solomon Islands has the cleanest air in the world (SIBC, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation)

The World Health Statistics 2017 report released by the World Health Organisation found the country has the lowest concentrations of “fine particular matter in urban areas” in its air in the world.

The Solomons had a rating of 5.0, ahead of New Zealand (5.2), New Brunei Darussalam (5.4) and Australia (5.8).

It's not all good news for the Solomons: SIBC's report added: "Despite having the cleanest air, the country still falls behind on other development indicators, particularly in areas such as life expectancy, improved access to proper sanitation and rates of cancer.
  • The average life expectancy of Solomon Islanders is 69.2 years, below the global average of 71.4 years. 
  • Out of every 1000 babies born, WHO said its data showed 114 would die –though it was better than the global average of 212 deaths per 1000 babies born.
  • The Hapi Isles has 22.1 health professionals for every 1000 people, well below the global average of 45.6 per 1000 people.
  • WHO estimates 26.4 per cent of Solomon Islanders aged between 30 and 70 will die from either cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or respiratory disease, above the global average of 18.8 per cent.

And perhaps WHO should add thanks to climate change some of the country's 1,000 cays, atolls and islands are at risk of... disappearing. What will that mean for Solomon Islanders?

Stay calm
Learning to breathe calmly - smell the soup, cool the soup - is a central tenet of modern wellbeing gurus. Just as campaigning to clean up our air has become a key ingredient of modern town planning. And dare I say it, ignoring the consequences of climate change, sea level rise etc.

If there's a lesson from the Solomons then it's make your cities, towns and villages places where walkers rule. Except that's not quite how it felt even when I lived in Solomon Islands... Anyone who's ever been to Honiara recently will know that its one road along the seafront is completely traffic-choked, and not made easy for pedestrians to cross. But it's not a big country, or a big city, and it's only one road: and so the Solomons wins the clean air prize by default. It's fantastic the Solomns has the cleanest air in the world, but it's certainly not thanks to good city planning.

But here's hoping that crazy idea to bottle tropical forest oxygen might be suitable for gimmicky sales now. It's a lot better than selling natural sources like wildlife or trees. At least I think so - I'm slightly confused by the most recent episode of Dr Who which I watched last weekend which played around with this theme, and I don't want to ruin that plot twist.

When it comes to how to get clean air, what the Solomons does right (or not at all) is something we all need to start doing.

Lola (left) and Nell (right) with talented custom dancers
back in 2011 in Solomon Islands.
A little extra
"I can now picture the globe and all the countries and think about their different climates and realities. I learnt that in the Solomons the sky is much clearer, that might either be because of less pollution or where it is positioned. I found that it is a lot easier to breathe in a hotter place if you have asthma which is incredibly annoying as I do not like hot climates – they are too hot." Nell, 10 years after two months in Solomon Islands.
Because of climate change my family decided to stop flying. We decided that a return flight every 10 years would be a way of doing this. Our last flights were in 2011, when from June-September we took our daughters out of school and went to Solomon Islands for several months (via Australia). In the final post about that trip the girls summed up what they thought of that travel experience - lessons that have definitely taken them through GCSEs and A levels. The older, Lola, is now on a gap year learning French in Paris (reached by train) and plans to study politics at uni in September 2017. And over dinner it's not unusual for both girls to argue about who will be PM first: I don't think it's going to be a job share! Have a look at this post here, where Nell's quote above is taken from (clearly she figured out Honiara was less polluted than London).

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