How We Can Build Cleaner Air Cities


Breathing clean air is a basic human right. Yet 91% of the world lives in places where air quality fails to meet WHO guidelines. We urgently need clean air cities and you too can play a part.

Picture growing up in a major city like Los Angeles or Beijing and never seeing a clear blue sky. Haze perpetually blocking your view. Smog stinging your eyes and irritating your throat when you step outside. Thinking it’s normal to wear a mask to filter the air you breathe.

This is reality for over 700 million urban residents worldwide. Air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people every year and threatens the health and wellbeing of countless more.

Yet solutions exist that can help cities clean their air. Worldwide, a growing clean air movement aims to put these solutions into practice through policies, citizen action, and technology.

Clean air cities are urban areas that prioritize and actively work towards reducing air pollution. This includes implementing initiatives to decrease the emission of harmful pollutants from vehicles, industries, and other sources. These cities often focus on promoting the use of public transportation, increasing green spaces, and enforcing regulations to limit pollution. Clean air cities aim to provide their residents with healthier living environments by improving air quality and minimizing the potential health risks associated with poor air conditions.

urban air quality

Importance of Clean Air

Breathing clean air is crucial for our health. It reduces the risk of respiratory diseases, such as asthma and lung cancer, and contributes to overall well-being. Clean air cities prioritize policies and initiatives aimed at reducing air pollution, ultimately benefiting the health of their residents.

Factors Affecting Air Quality

Air quality in cities is influenced by various factors. Some of the main contributors to air pollution include vehicle emissions, industrial activities, energy production, and household combustion of fuels. Other factors such as weather conditions, geographical location, and urbanization also play a significant role in determining the level of air pollution in a city. Key factors that affect air quality in urban areas include:

  • Vehicle emissions
  • Industrial activities
  • Energy production
  • Household combustion of fuels
  • Weather conditions
  • Geographical location
  • Urbanization

Strategies for Improving Air Quality in Cities

To improve air quality in cities, there are several strategies that can be implemented. These include:

  1. Promoting the use of public transportation and carpooling to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, which can help decrease air pollution.
  2. Encouraging the use of electric vehicles to reduce emissions from traditional gasoline-powered cars.
  3. Implementing and enforcing strict regulations on industrial emissions to reduce air pollution from industrial processes.
  4. Increasing green spaces and tree planting to help absorb pollutants and improve overall air quality.
  5. Promoting the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, which contribute to air pollution.

By implementing these strategies, cities can work towards cleaner and healthier air for their residents.

Case Studies of Clean Air Initiatives

Clean air initiatives have been implemented in various cities around the world with encouraging results. For example, in Paris, the city introduced a car-free day, reducing air pollution by 40%. Similarly, in Copenhagen, the promotion of cycling and better public transportation has led to a 28% reduction in air pollution. Additionally, in Bogota, the implementation of a bus rapid transit system has significantly improved air quality, demonstrating the effectiveness of sustainable transportation solutions in reducing air pollution. These case studies highlight the positive impact of clean air initiatives and provide valuable insights for cities aiming to improve air quality.

Role of Technology in Air Quality Management

Technology plays a crucial role in managing air quality in cities. Through the use of advanced sensors and monitoring devices, authorities can track air pollution levels and take necessary steps to control it. Additionally, innovative solutions like air purifiers and emissions control technology help in reducing harmful pollutants in the atmosphere. Technology also enables the development of sustainable transportation options, such as electric vehicles and public transit systems, which contribute to cleaner air. Overall, integrating technology into air quality management is essential for creating cleaner and healthier urban environments.

Public Health Benefits of Clean Air

Clean air in cities has significant public health benefits. According to the American Lung Association, exposure to air pollution can lead to various health issues, including respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even premature death. Improved air quality can lead to reduced asthma attacks, fewer cases of lung disease, and a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, clean air can also contribute to better overall well-being and quality of life for city residents.

Challenges in Achieving Clean Air Goals

Achieving clean air goals can be challenging due to several factors:

  • Industrial emissions
  • Vehicle exhaust
  • Agricultural activities
  • Natural factors such as wildfires and dust storms.

Efforts to reduce air pollution often face resistance from industries and individuals reluctant to change their habits or invest in cleaner technologies. Additionally, limited funding for air quality improvement programs can hinder progress. However, with proactive measures and community participation, cleaner air goals can be achieved.

Community Involvement in Clean Air Efforts

It’s important for communities to get involved in efforts to improve air quality. This can include supporting local initiatives to reduce pollution, advocating for cleaner transportation options, and participating in clean-up events. Community involvement in clean air efforts can help raise awareness and create a healthier environment for everyone.

Why Clean Air Matters for Health

Air pollution causes a wide range of health problems, especially among vulnerable groups like children, the elderly, and those suffering from lung and heart conditions.

Respiratory and Cardiovascular Disease

Microscopic pollution particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream increase risk of lung cancer, asthma and COPD as well as heart attacks, strokes and arrhythmias.

In one study, fine particle air pollution was linked to over 30% of global deaths from ischemic heart disease and stroke, as well as approximately 17% of deaths from acute lower respiratory infection and 24% of deaths from lung cancer.

Premature Death

Beyond disease risk, air pollution exposure literally cuts lives short. One recent study found that reducing air pollution to WHO guidelines could extend average life expectancy worldwide by over a year.

Impaired Lung Development in Children

For children, one key area of concern is impaired lung development. Research indicates kids growing up in highly polluted areas suffer lasting lung function reduction.

Adults have fully developed lungs. But for children, the years before adulthood are a critical window when lungs grow rapidly. Exposure to toxins like particulate matter during this time can cause permanent lung damage.


Emerging research also links air pollution exposure to dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease later in life through inflammation and oxidative stress effects on the aging brain.

In other words, the very air many city residents breathe on a daily basis comes at the cost of health, quality of life and longevity.

Key Pollution Sources in Cities

Air pollution comes from many sources, both natural and manmade. Dust storms, wildfires, volcanic eruptions or other events can cause temporary pollution spikes.

However in cities, the main triggers of consistent dangerous air quality levels include:


Vehicle exhaust releases high levels of damaging particles and gases, especially from older gas and diesel engines lacking modern emissions controls. This makes roads and highways pollution hotspots. Cities with more vehicles and worse traffic generally suffer more transportation-related air pollution.


Factories, oil refineries, chemical plants and other major industrial facilities emit both particulate matter and gases like sulfur and nitrogen oxides. Heavy industry concentrated around urban areas can contribute to toxic “brown clouds” over certain cities.

Electricity Generation

Power plants supplying city grids often rely on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Without proper emissions controls, these facilities can spew toxins into the air. Coal burning is an especially major source of health-harming particulate matter as well as hazrdous air pollutants like mercury.

Home Heating and Cooking

Household heating and cooking with wood, coal and other polluting fuels releases particle pollution, carbon monoxide and volatile compounds that react to produce ground-level ozone and smog. Use of clean stoves and fuels can alleviate pollution from this source.

Taken together, these sources create a toxic burden of pollution for many urban populations.

And with more people globally moving to cities, these challenges will only intensify if solutions aren’t implemented.

Meet the World’s Clean Air Cities

Fortunately, cities worldwide are stepping up to tackle dirty air – implementing innovative policies and programs that curb emissions while prioritizing cleaner alternatives.

Over 80 cities globally have air quality that meets WHO guidelines thanks to such measures. And many more cities are making tangible progress.

The World’s Cleanest Capital – Wellington, New Zealand

The world’s city with the cleanest air and only capital to achieve a “good” rating by WHO guidelines is Wellington, the compact harbor metropolis serving as New Zealand’s seat of government.

Wellington owes its clean air to abundant wind and rain, lack of heavy industry, short commutes and residents’ preference to walk, cycle or ride efficient public transportation over driving.

The city is also converting many buses to electric and aims to further reduce emissions by electrifying its vehicle fleet while boosting green spaces and urban forests.

North America’s Clean Air Trailblazer – Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver stands out for clean air thanks to both favorable climate and forward-thinking policies that deter personal vehicles in favor of walking, cycling and public transit.

Strategies have included congestion pricing on cars downtown and increasing density along transit corridors while preserving green spaces throughout the rest of the metro area.

Vancouver now draws frequent comparison to cities like Shanghai and Los Angeles for its success pioneering cleaner urban transportation and growth patterns since the 1970s.

Northern Europe’s Clean Air Leader – Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm hosts some of Europe’s cleanest urban air despite cold winters where heating and power needs might exacerbate pollution.

The city’s strong clean air policies include a ban on studded winter tires that reduce particulates from road and tire wear, congestion pricing scheme favoring electric vehicles, and ambitious targets to be fossil fuel free by 2040 including conversion of the grid and heating to renewables.

The city has set a positive example in the Nordic region and beyond. Residents also strongly support sustainability and clean air policies through civic initiatives and politics.

Asia’s Smog-Busting Turnaround Story – Seoul, South Korea

Once infamous for dangerous smog from vehicles and industry, South Korea’s capital has seen remarkable air quality improvement in recent years.

Policy reforms since the mid 2000s promoting cleaner domestic fuels, public transit, EVs, and emissions cuts from large polluters have led to clear reductions in leading pollutants like fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide.

Seoul still suffers episodic spikes, but government and citizen efforts for cleaner air offer an inspiring model as many Asian metro areas work to control smog amid rapid development.

*These cities offer blueprints others can adapt – prioritizing clean energy, efficient transit, eco-conscious growth policies and emissions control. Their success can inform local efforts worldwide to secure cleaner air as a human right. *

Policies and Programs for Cleaner Urban Air

Just as pollution sources differ between cities, optimal solutions do too based on industries, transit systems, climate, energy infrastructure, urban layout, political priorities and other local factors.

However several best practices consistently help cities promote cleaner air:

Vehicle Emissions Reduction

  • Promoting public transportation usage through convenient, extensive networks and services while adding bike lanes and walkable spaces to deter personal vehicles.
  • Electrifying buses, taxis, municipal fleets and other vehicles to replace tailpipe emissions with clean power.
  • Implementing low emission zones restricting more polluting vehicles.
  • Expanding electric vehicle charging infrastructure and purchase incentives.
  • Enforcing vehicle maintenance and emission control regulations, including I&M (inspection and maintenance) testing programs.
  • Limiting heavy traffic in dense areas via congestion charges, car free zones or restrictions on registration.

Industrial Emissions Control

  • Requiring emissions control upgrades at factories/plants using filters, stack scrubbers and other equipment.
  • Phasing out heavy fuels like coal/oil in favor of natural gas or ideally renewables.
  • Strategically zoning heavy industry away from dense residential areas whenever possible.

Cleaner Energy Production

  • Replacing aging coal power with low emission natural gas, solar, wind and other renewable sources.
  • Implementing emissions caps on power sector pollution.

Reducing Household Pollution

  • Swapping indoor wood and coal heating/stoves for electric or gas options.
  • Promoting electric induction cooktops over gas.
  • Subsidizing residential purchases of low emission appliances.

Smart Urban Development

  • Focusing new dense housing/development along transit corridors instead of urban fringe.
  • Preserving green spaces and urban tree canopies to naturally filter air.
  • Designing pedestrian centered neighborhoods need less driving.

Improving Early Warning and Response

  • Expanding air quality forecasting with historical data and atmospheric modeling
  • Issuing public alerts and emergency reduction plans during extreme events like wildfires.
  • Temporary traffic bans or activity restrictions during severe episodes.
  • Distributing free masks to vulnerable residents.

There is no definitive formula. Each city has unique needs and capabilities. But learning from other urban areas while tailoring solutions to local realities offers the most promising path towards breathable air.

How You Can Join the Movement for Clean Air

Achieving clean, healthy air requires participation across all levels – from governments enacting bold policies to local communities advocating change to individuals reducing personal footprints.

Even small acts multiplied by large numbers of concerned citizens can impact air quality while rallying support for broader progress.

Here are 5 important ways you can join the emerging global movement for clean air:

1. Reduce Driving and Vehicle Emissions

Choosing mass transit, biking, walking, carpooling or avoiding unnecessary trips are powerful ways for individuals to lower pollution from vehicles. Maintaining your car well, avoiding idling when parked, and accelerating smoothly also help.

Supporting a shift to more electric vehicles and cleaner transport options through your purchases and politics fuels larger scale emissions reductions.

2. Save Energy and Shift to Clean Sources

Reducing home energy waste through efficiency upgrades like insulation, LEDs and weatherproofing allows power plants to burn less fossil fuel meeting lower demand. Combining conservation with solar, wind or other clean power maximizes impact.

3. Avoid Polluting Household Items

Seeking out electric induction stove tops avoid gas combustion indoor air pollution. Choosing non-toxic building materials, furnishings and cleaning supplies prevents VOC off-gassing. And skipping leaf blowers and other equipment limiting emissions and kicks up clouds of particles also helps.

4. Influence Local Leaders

Contacting government officials to advocate priorities like public transit funding, EV infrastructure, energy efficiency incentives, emissions restrictions on polluters and other air quality policies elevates the issue to decision makers and can help drive change.

And supporting candidates who include clean air in their platforms brings helpful perspectives into office.

5. Promote Community Awareness

Raising visibility of air pollution’s serious health effects and the solutions that exist to mitigate it builds crucial public engagement for the issue.

Talk to your friends and family, speak up at public meetings, write newspaper letters, use social media or consider joining local clean air advocacy groups. Spreading awareness about threats posed by unhealthy air and benefits of addressing it can spark wider citizen action.

Individual actions add up to collective impact. By working together from households to halls of power, we can equitably achieve healthy air everywhere – the foundation for thriving, sustainable communities benefiting all.

Obstacles Hindering Clean Air Progress

While promising success stories and proven policies exist, significant barriers still impede broader clean air adoption worldwide:

Entrenched Industry Interests

Influential corporations often fiercely resist proposed regulations and liability for environmental damage to protect profits from current harmful practices. Manufacturers may game compliance processes by installing minimal controls or stretch phase-out timelines.

Strong transparent oversight and enforcement mechanisms are essential to prevent obstruction of progress.

Regulation Gaps Between Jurisdictions

Patchwork local, regional, state and national regulations allow companies to locate polluting facilities in areas with weaker limits on emissions, hampering coordination needed for effectiveness. Stricter uniform standards are needed.

Cost Concerns

Upgrading factories with new equipment, building extensive rapid transit networks, transitioning vehicle fleets or making other infrastructure improvements carries major price tags that trouble budget-limited municipalities.

However factoring in economic losses, healthcare costs and lives ruined from unchecked pollution reveals preventative clean air investments as highly cost effective overall.

Entrenched Commuter Preferences

After decades building sprawling roadway-centric cities, many urban dwellers resist moves away from personal vehicles towards mass transit and other cleaner options despite their advantages.

Overcoming cultural inertia takes persistent public engagement highlighting individual benfits like saved time, money and frustration.

Developing World Investment Deficits

Cities in poorer nations wrestling with basics like sanitation, water access or electricity often lack financial means or institutional expertise to navigate complex clean air challenges without outside assistance.

But supporting these rapidly growing metro areas to leapfrog over pollutive technologies to modern clean alternatives offers multipronged quality of life, health and climate benefits given their large populations.

Each barrier requires tailored strategies to dismantle oppression of clean air progress – whether defending strong policies in court, building diverse community/industry coalitions, leveraging funding mechanisms or raising public awareness around problems and solutions.

Only through concerted long-term collaboration can we achieve breathable healthy air across all communities.

Hopeful Signs of Progress

Despite very real obstacles, promising trends show conditions aligning to build political momentum for clean air action after decades of grassroots efforts…

Declining Renewable Energy Costs

As prices plunge for wind, solar and energy storage technologies it becomes increasingly cost effective to shift cities from health-harming fossil fuel reliance toclean electricity for power, heating, industry and electric vehicles.

Rising Public Concern over Health Impacts

Extreme events like acrid wildfire smoke blanketing cities alongside research firming up air pollution’s ties to disease, dementia and early death make the issue more immediate for many – increasing pressure for bolder measures.

Growing Civil Society Movements

Non-profit organizations, youth activists and citizen coalitions demanding cleaner air create essential momentum to overcome inertia and industry lobby interests. Such groups provide optimism and accountability vital to drive policy adoption.

Supportive Private Sector Trends

Certain corporations actually help clean cities’ air through business decisions minimizing their emissions footprint or technological innovations enabling broader progress. For example ride sharing services expand mobility options allowing personal vehicle ownership declines. Other companies supply crucial gear like emissions control equipment. Still more firms purchase renewable energy or commit to electrifying vehicle fleets.

Improved Air Quality Monitoring and Forecasting

Measuring where pollution comes from and how it moves empowers smarter real-time emergency response while identifying priorities for preventative action. Better atmospheric modeling paired with sensors also allows predicting future scenario impacts to guide planning.

Increase in Government Regulation and Enforcement

Tighter vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency standards, industrial air toxics limits, coal power retirements, building energy codes and other rules drove substantial US air quality gains. Where regulations exist worldwide, strict monitoring and penalties for violations maintain progress over time better than voluntary measures alone.

We already posses solutions to achieve clean air for all. Bright spots across sectors hint the paradigm shift towards breathable cities draws nearer – if societies choose to seize opportunities before us.

Healthier Air for Healthier Communities

Becoming a clean air city remains no easy feat given the vested interests benefitting from harmful status quos.

However barriers blocking the path only underscore the importance of communities uniting to demand progress.

Because clean air is an essential human right for healthy vibrant living.

Imagine growing up as a child in a city where you feel the wind on your face watching trees sway, stargaze under haze-free skies at night and never worry if simply breathing the air around you might do your body harm.

This could be reality in communities worldwide – if people organize and compel leaders to act.

The technology already exists to provide clean air. What’s needed now is public pressure so policies adapt solutions each community needs to equitable protect everyone’s basic right to breathe.

Join the emerging movement for healthy breathable cities benefiting generations to come. Our lives depend literally on air pollution action today.

The Path to Clean Air Cities Starts With You

The clean air movement builds momentum worldwide, but truly reaping health and sustainability gains depends on engaged citizens advocating solutions community by community.

Because while measures exist for cities to provide healthy air, political will latent.

Pressure from voters and consumers concerned over pollution’s severe threats proves essential to drive adoption at rates matching the crisis scale.

That’s why ordinary yet impassioned people joining together fuels transformational progress cleaning urban air shed by shed.

Find Your Unique Role as a Clean Air Champion

Effecting change first requires grasping air quality factors closest around you.

Start by researching pollution levels in your area, where emissions originate and any related health impacts or vulnerable groups.

Look into existing regulations, current policy proposals and which leaders oversee clean air efforts.

And explore who else pushes for progress locally from non-profits to community groups.

Armed with this baseline understanding, you gain context to pinpoint highest leverage intervention points.

Maybe vehicle exhaust requires urgent control in your city. Or coal plant retirement battles rage nearby. Perhaps parks preservation fights link to clean air.

Opportunities abound needing engaged voices to instigate action.

Because while sweeping solutions require complex large-scale implementation, they manifest through many small civic efforts compounding benefits over time.

Wield Your Unique Influence

However you choose to advance clean air efforts in line with personal talents and interests, individual participation adds indispensable momentum.

Advocates demonstrate growing electoral power of the breathable cities movement essential to sway political leaders towards bolder reforms.

Write Letters and Emails

A quick note shows politicians and agency officials measurable citizens track their environmental record. Make clear you vote on clean air progress. Form letters also amplify common messages when many constituents sign on.

Place Phone Calls

Direct outreach to decision-maker offices builds relationships while enabling nuanced dialogue to address concerns. Calls document opinion with immediate feedback.

Speak Out at Public Meetings

Local hearings allow residents to voice clean air priorities as officials shape policy responses. Share personal perspectives on pollution’s impacts.

Join Advocacy Groups

Non-profit organizations lead the charge developing solutions, lobbying leaders and organizing grassroots networks essential to realize change. Volunteers support campaigns while gaining insider perspective.

Host Community Events

Tabling at markets, organizing park cleanups or convening discussions spotlights air quality challenges to spark wider engagement. Creative activities grabbing attention help spread the word.

Share Social Media Content

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook enable fast informational spread these days. Follow clean air advocates and repost relevant facts, takes and ways to get involved to expand reach.

Submit Letters and Commentary to Local News Outlets

Seeing neighbors weigh in on unhealthy air and paths for progress in trusted media sways public views to support budding policies. Print and radio outlets actively seek local op-eds.

Each small act contributes to the sweeping cultural shift towards breathable cities for all. Tiny stones can divert mighty rivers given patience and collective mass.

Identify Key Health Benefits to Build Public Buy-In

Identifying clean air progress as crucial preventative health investment proves especially powerful expanding advocacy. Because benefiting wellbeing commands broad appeal.

Everyone appreciates decreased disease and healthcare expenses. Parents desire healthy futures for children. And basic quality living resonates as a human right.

So highlighting specific well documented benefits clean air offers the general public and vulnerable groups pays communication dividends.

Prevent Asthma and Lung Disease

Reduced air pollution prevents asthma attacks and minimizes lung disease diagnoses, hospital visits and medication needs – saving money and pain. Cleaner air lets kids breathe easier.

Slash Heart Disease and Stroke Risk

Particle pollution drives up cardiovascular emergency room visits and deaths. Controlling airborne toxins cuts heart disease and stroke incidence to boost community vitality.

Reduce Dementia and Brain Conditions

Clear links emerge between dirty air and neurodegeneration. Clean cities promise lower dementia to maintain dignified golden years and reduce elder care loads for families.

Enable Healthier Pregnancies

Pregnant mothers facing high pollution risk preterm birth, gestational diabetes and low birth weights harming infant development. Curbing emissions protects mothers and babies.

Help Children Thrive

Young bodies are highly vulnerability to lifelong organ and immune damage from pollution. Cleaner air safeguards children’s health as the grow and avoids special education costs.

There exist too many reasons NOT to act. No justification outweighs moral imperative to enable healthy climate and lungs for all next generations.

Plan for the Long Haul…and Occasional Setbacks

Shifting entrenched energy and transportation networks towards sustainable models constitutes no quick feat. Substantial clean air gains play out across years and decades.

So savvy advocates understand battling setbacks and opposition comes with territory when facing down status quos harming health. Patience and cool heads persevere.

Because the slew of solutions cities worldwide model for limiting air pollution when properly implemented portend a brighter future.

From Los Angeles cracking down on oil refineries…to London diversifying clean transit options…to Beijing shutting coal plants…to Delhi’s helicopters spraying water capturing dust…urban areas increasingly place clean air progress into motion.

Some changes occur rapidly others erratically. But the destination stays true…breathable air granting vibrant life.

Take Heart in Clean Air Victories

Despite inevitable occasional defeats, shining successes blossom to inspire solidarity for the long haul.

For when ordinary citizens coalesce around shared hopes and dreams for just sustainable futures, they unleash indomitable power against seemingly calcified structures.

Because forces burgeoning from ground up often sweep aside established walls. Domination crumbles before irrepressible human spirit bonded by conviction.

Already clean air progress surges in communities worldwide as people awaken to their own influence…

San Francisco and other cities recently banned natural gas in new buildings to prevent toxic indoor pollution amidst heating. Mexico City permanently removed thousands of old polluting vehicles. India’s clean cooking initiative distributed millions of electric and gas stoves offsetting deadly indoor smoke. Poland accelerated its coal power phaseout timeline.

And so much more stirs.

These wins build momentum…signifying the emergence of moral movements sweeping away that which impedes equitable health to usher in new holistic eras.

So take heart. With strategic persistence and compassion, clean air crusaders cultivate more inspiring victories day by day.

Conclusion: Join Hands for Healthy Air

Becoming an advocate for breathable cities constitutes a rewarding path to safeguard public health where you live through solutions already proven worldwide.

Because clean air is foundational for happy thriving communities.

No person should fear the very air they breathe will sicken them or their family. Yet too many urban dwellers face such worries daily.

You can help build the coalitions demanding healthy air – first in your own backyard then inspiring fellow advocates globally.

Each small civic step towards progress gains momentum…with voices uniting into choruses… gaining strength through kindred spirits bonded by purpose.

It’s clear that cities across the world are making meaningful progress in efforts to improve air quality and create healthier environments. From implementing sustainable transport initiatives to increasing green spaces, it’s evident that cities are adopting measures to mitigate air pollution. However, there is still work to be done to achieve the goal of cleaner air for all residents. By continuing to invest in clean energy and sustainable urban planning, cities can ensure a brighter, healthier future for generations to come.

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