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Iran's Clean Air Day gets cold shoulder

TEHRAN, Iran, January 20, 2000 (Gulf News) -- Iran's National Clean Air Day yesterday went largely unnoticed. Most car owners, blamed for most of the air pollution, ignored the call to switch off their engines for three minutes. But thousands of schoolchildren had to endure cold classrooms because their state-run schools were forced to turn the heaters off. This is the third year the government, in an attempt to spread awareness about the hazards of pollution, asked Iranians on January 19 for simple gestures to show respect for the environment.

In Tehran yesterday very few drivers heeded the government's call to turn off their engines or abandoned their cars in favour of public transport. Tehran, a city of nearly 12 million people, is one of the world's most polluted. Radio bulletins warn people of the pollution rate and ask the elderly and those with heart conditions to stay at home on smoggy days. Schools have been shut over the past few weeks out of fear for children's health.

The Hamshari daily newspaper reported that a man died last week; the first victim of the evil cloud that has been hovering over the city. According to experts, nearly 70 per cent of the pollution in Tehran is caused by traffic. Reports say that Iran ranks second in petrol consumption after the United States with 4,345 litres consumed annually per car.

Tehran's two million cars alone use seven million litres of petrol daily. Of these 500,000 cars are over 20 years old with leaky engines and exhaust pipes that sputter black smoke. Some were content to blame Tehran's municipality for slackness in abiding by its own rules. "The municipality should first get rid of its old smoke producing trucks," Reza Moqani, a taxi driver, said. "Then the urban transport buses should be repaired, or be adjusted to use (natural) gas," he added. Moqani did not turn off his engine yesterday.