If there were ever a time for rain dancing, it would be now. It’s the end of the dry season here and I genuinely can’t remember the last time we saw rain. Under normal circumstances, that might not be such a bad thing. But if you can’t tell from the above image, we’re having some serious air quality problems in Tegucigalpa.
I had read the State Department travel warning about Honduras, which includes this fun tidbit about air pollution: “Air pollution sufficient to aggravate or lead to respiratory problems is common throughout the country during the dry season due in large part to widespread forest fires and agricultural burning.” Up until the last two weeks, the poor air quality never really bothered me (minus one particularly brutal road race spent sucking down tailpipe exhaust for 45 minutes). But in April, the air took on a new tone… literally. Visibility is reduced; tall buildings and the hills surrounded the city are obscured in gray.
After crawling onto the couch with a headache nearly every day this week (my own fault for still running outside right now), I took to Google to find some answers. Turns out, according to the World Health Organization, Honduras is ranked 23rd worst in the world for air pollution, mainly from unregulated transportation and electricity generation. Add to that some slash-and-burn agriculture, seasonal trash burning, and a lack of rain and you’ve got a city blanketed by a thick layer of smoke and smog.
A friend previously stationed in Shanghai joked that this last week in Tegucigalpa would have been a “good week” in China, but apparently the two are comparable, with Tegucigalpa being one of two Latin American cities recorded to exceed 300 mg/y/m3 of particulate matter.
Sadly, for MSGs and Foreign Service folk, we’re not alone. Air pollution is a serious concern at many posts, from Mongolia to India to Kosovo. Fortunately for us in Honduras, the current haze and Yankee candle strength smoke smell are only a seasonal hazard and should dissipate once the rain picks up in May. Then it’s back to holding our breath only when we’re playing Frogger in the traffic-choked streets. To those serving in China and other countries with permanent pollution… I’m holding my breath for you.
*Shout out to Phil Collins for the blog title inspiration and for one of the greatest songs of the 80s.