No one leaves home unless
Home is the mouth of a shark
You only run for the border
When you see the whole city running as well
Delhi was, and always will be, home to me. It was a city that I grew up in for the most part and that I loved. While I may have travelled, worked and lived abroad, it was the one city that beckoned me back time and time again until finally my husband and I decided to return to it. Our beautiful son arrived soon after our return and our cheeky monkey of a daughter followed a few years later.
My childhood was full of long lazy days spent outdoors – my weekends were for climbing hills and swimming in the sea. My love of nature has been the bedrock of who I am and I wanted to pass this on to my children. An ideal childhood for me meant long lazy hours of the day spent outdoors and weekends at Lodhi Garden. We did this for as long as we could till I finally accepted (or realised) that being outdoors was doing my little ones more harm than good.
Last year, we made a difficult decision – to leave home so that our children could breathe a little easier. Delhi is ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world and the number of times my children fell frighteningly ill was too difficult for me to bear. So we moved to a place with cleaner air so that they could live a healthier life with lungs that let them dive down to explore corals and meet obscure fish. Or those that let them run marathons.
We left behind our families, our friends, our local sabjiwallahs and kirana stores, the comfort of grandparents, uncles and aunties and our favourite haunts to rebuild our family and roots in a different part of the world. On some days, I look across the sky of this new city I love and am overwhelmed by what I have left behind. I have to remind myself to take a deep breath. To breathe in. Breathe out. And smell the freshness of the air. To know that we have made the right decision for our family. We continue from afar to try and do our bit to improve Delhi's air. My husband is a member for Care for Air, and our daughter was one of the three young petitioners of
the Supreme Court seeking a ban on firecrackers.
I live in hope that the air quality in Delhi will improve over time and that one day it will
be safer to come home again. Till then, I discover new ways of helping from afar, falling in love with the city I am currently in and spending the entire weekend playing outdoors.
Gauri relocated away from India mainly in the pursuit of clean air. When she isn't getting praise from the Legal500™ for her work as a Securities attorney at one of the world’s leading law firms, she is a doting mother to Aveer (6) and Zoya (2), hoping she can come home soon once the air is better for them.
Introduction: Care for Air launched its first Student Ambassador Programme in 2016. As part of the programme, we asked the young ambassadors (anywhere between 14 and 17 years old) to blog about their learning experience. Here are some of their voices.
A Problematic Pledge
Not too many years ago,
We made a tryst with destiny.
And the time has come for us to redeem that pledge.
Not wholly, or full in measure
But very substantially.
And redeem it we shall,
The preparations are underway!
With plumes of toxic smoke,
We welcome the dirty air!
Match by match we light the fire,
To ignite Earth's funeral pyre.
The young and old celebrate,
With sulphurous fumes and nitrates!
What a noble pledge indeed,
Upheld by every caste and creed.
To mark glorious celebrations,
With death, disaster and desolation
Masked under bright lights and smoke-
Isn't it time you awoke?
When you picked up your first firecracker,
You pledged to the cause.
When you lit your first cigarette,
You pledged to the cause.
When you switched to diesel,
You pledged to the cause.
And when you burned plastic on Lohri,
You pledged to the cause.
You also pledged to the cause,
When you didn't stop the kabaadi-wala
From burning the trash he collected.
Or when you let maali-bhaiya
Burn the leaves, unaffected.
Oh, what a noble pledge indeed,
Upheld by every caste and creed!
Time and again,
Your allegiance was upheld.
It is time it is broken,
Crushed, and quelled.
For your forefathers swore an oath
To let us awaken
To life and freedom.
But you see, I am bound.
The strings of my mask tie me down to my,
Air purifier, which my mother insisted I bought,
Because my nebuliser has gone for repair,
And my inhaler won't help with Delhi air;
And this is why, you need to care,
Because the city now has to bear
With allegiance you swore
To a slow, painful death.
Lusha Jetley: I'm a 15 year old Sanskriti School student. When I am not been whisked away at parliamentary debates and MUNs, I'm writing poetry and clicking photographs, in attempts to encapsulate my thoughts about the world we live in today. My best friends include my violin, my dog Pepper and a good book. My student initiative, Art for Sale aims to increase public awareness through the medium of art. This Diwali, we urged people to not burst crackers by sharing handmade diyas and posters in small gift packages.
Introduction: Care for Air launched its first Student Ambassador Programme in 2016. As part of the programme, we asked the young ambassadors (anywhere between 14 and 17 years old) to blog about their learning experience. Here are some of their voices.
In the first session of the Care For Air Student Ambassador Program, we discussed the various problems air pollution causes in our city, our country and some of the solutions to these problems. One of the problems discussed was indoor pollution and how it’s caused by the use of ‘chulhas’. I learned that efforts have been made by the Government to reduce indoor pollution with the provision of bio-stoves in rural parts of the country, and people use ‘air purifiers’ in more urban areas. Most of these methods are costly to the state and to the individuals, while some methods are not easily accepted by the section of our society that believes in traditional methods.
When I went home, I decided to do some research and brainstorm other effective yet inexpensive alternatives that will reduce indoor pollution and would be accepted by rural households. Air-purifying plants (more specifically herbs) was one of the eco-friendly and effective methods I came across.
It is quite well known that herbs have several uses in the kitchen and has medicinal properties. Certain herbs, as it has been discovered, reduce carbon-dioxide and increase the oxygen in the air when grown indoors or on a windowsill.
Herbs like Jasmine, Basil and Mint are relatively easy to grow and care for in a country like India, and they also purify the air. While there are other benefits. Jasmine gives out a nice fragrance, can be used in herbal tea, Basil can be used as seasoning in food as can mint, which also keeps away mosquitoes and prevents respiratory ailments.
Therefore I decided to grow a small mint plant on my windowsill as an experiment to see how easily it would grow if I were to incorporate it into a large scale project. I did not germinate the seed, but grew it from a cutting. I also kept another mint plant next to it to see how easily it would be to maintain. I found that mint is one of the easiest plants to grow and maintain. It requires next to no care and has many alternative uses other than purifying the air. While the difference in air quality is not evident as the plant has been kept indoors, the more I researched, the more I realized that the little plant by my windowsill is actually doing a lot more good than one can see, feel or measure.
This was just a small, easy step that I took to improve the air quality in my house. It might make a small difference, but to me, it’s a constructive difference that might on a larger-scale help my school or community.
Dayawanti Punj: I am a 15 year old Shri Ram School Moulsari student. I have been passionate about the environment since a very young age and am the Grade Representative of Environmental Initiatives at my school. I have managed paper waste and tetra pack recycling initiatives, silent protests (anti-crackers, anti-water wastage during Holi etc. ) at the school-level. The cause for clean air is something I relate to on a personal level and wish to positively impact. Apart from working on environmental initiatives, I am a pianist and enjoy reading economics and politics.
At a time when we know the PM2.5 in the air is getting worse, it seems there is one more thing that we need to worry about. Of course we know there are other pollutants in the air - and the Diwali firecrackers are going to make all of this multiplier times worse! But there is one aerosol that we are also injecting into the air, one that we probably need to, to protect ourselves from mosquito-borne diseases like chikanguniya and dengue. Here is one of CFA's founding members' thoughtful viewpoint on fogging. Reprinted by permission by the author.
The billowing white smoke brings relief. It shows we are on the offensive against the dreaded mosquito-borne viral menaces. But should we be a tad bit worried too? This opaque, odorless cloud is not a result of Mother Nature. How many times have you instinctively held your breath as you walked through it? I know I do every time I encounter anti-mosquito fogging. I don’t walk, I rush through it wondering how many more steps to go before I clear the cloud. It is a test of my lung capacity, how long can I hold my breath before the next inhale and exhale?
The clouds from fogging machines are pervasive in New Delhi right now. And rightly so. With cases of chikungunya and dengue skyrocketing – at epidemic proportions this year, we should be happy to see government agencies and neighborhoods taking such a proactive role to reduce mosquito populations.
This misty fog means death to all mosquitos right? Yet I can’t help but worry whatever is in a fog that can kill mosquitos en masse, can’t be good for me, right? And that is the thing with fogging.
What is in it? Will it harm me, my children? And really, how effective is it in killing mosquitos?
Well, experts agree the answers are complex sometimes leading to more questions and unease. First off, it’s fair to say fogging is very, very widely used around the world in developed and developing countries to help combat mosquito populations. But fogging is one step of many that should be taken. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an integrated approach to mosquito control to tackle all life stages of the mosquito. Fogging only targets one stage. It paralyzes and kills, sometimes but not always, adult mosquitos. Yet perhaps the biggest advantage of fogging is one of public relations.
Mosquito fogging provides the most visible and ongoing evidence of that a government or community is taking action against the problem. The effectiveness of fogging, though, is limited and short term.
I took a deeper look at mosquito fogging, it’s effectiveness and impact on our health. Here’s what I discovered.
5 Questions Answered on Mosquito Control:
1. Why isn’t fogging the silver bullet, the best way to tackle mosquitos?
First let’s consider the innovative, adaptive and opportunistic animal at the root of mosquito-borne disease:
The Aedes aegypti mosquito has a complex life cycle. They are container breeders and make full use of the urban setting to breed. Female mosquitos lay their eggs on the wet walls of containers, small or large, with even miniscule amounts of water. Discarded bottle caps, your pet’s water bowl, clogged rain gutters, used tires, discarded rubbish, toilet tanks are all breeding venues for this insect. The eggs can survive for a long time in a dry state, even up to a year!
Once they submerge in water, they hatch and over a very short period of time emerge as a newly formed and biting adult. Then 8-10 days later they are dead. But not before the female mosquitos have dined on human blood, her preferred meal, and produced eggs. Up to 100-200 eggs are produced after every blood meal! She can produce as many as 5 mega batches of eggs that she lays at different locations, smartly ensuring some will survive.
The problem with fogging is it only targets adult mosquitos, not the eggs or larvae. Also, consider the timing and location of fogging. If done midday, it will be less effective than being done at dawn and dusk. Fogging also will not reach the many, many indoor mosquitos who have made their way into our homes, creating whole reproductive ecosystems right under our nose!
2. What’s in the fog?
There is no one easy answer to this. There are many chemical options used in mosquito fogging. At least 10 different chemicals are widely used such as permethrin also known as pyrethroid, piperonyl butoxide (PBO), S-Bioalletrin, melathion, fenthion, BTI, and the banned abroad but widely used in Asia and Africa – DDT, which accumulates and remains in our bodies over years and is very harmful. To make it more complex, the chemicals used in fogging aren’t effective on mosquitos beyond the immediate dispersal. And skilled evolutionary warriors, mosquitos quickly develop resistance to the chemicals used requiring new pesticide variations to be effective!
3. Will fogging harm me, my children, my pets?
Pediatricians and public health agencies say mosquito fogging is safe for human exposure. That said in a contradictory turn, most also advise avoiding exposure all together, remaining inside when fogging occurs with windows and doors closed. Local Delhi pediatricians report increased cases of asthma, allergic reactions, and upper respiratory issues, especially in those more sensitive and prone to respiratory difficulties.
4. What else can be done? How do we get rid of mosquitos?
WHO stresses the urgency in eliminating mosquito breeding sites - that means small and large containers and areas where water collects. As an emergency measure only, fogging is best timed at dawn and dusk when mosquito activity is most intense. Some countries are introducing biological methods to control mosquitos such as mosquito larvae-devouring fish into water sources.
5. What can we do at home?
Prevent and protect! For years, we have slept under mosquito nets. My children love it, comparing their beds to mini forts. If you do not have screens on your window’s consider having them made to allow air circulation without letting these flying predators in. Wear lightweight long sleeve shirts and trousers and use natural anti-mosquito creams. Lastly, be vigilant about your garden, barsati, driveway and colony gardens to ensure these do not have breeding opportunities with standing water containers.
Considering worldwide cases of dengue alone have risen 30-fold compared to 50 years ago, this problem is not going away anytime soon. So be informed and be proactive. If you live in an area that fogs, protect yourself and your family by finding out when community fogging takes place and stay inside with the windows shut during this time. If possible, remain indoors for about 12 hours, possible only when evening fogging takes place perhaps, but at the very least for several hours.
Tina is a founding member of Care For Air. In 2009, she relocated to New Delhi, India. Within her own family, she has felt the impact of India’s air pollution problem. She believes the air we breathe is the ultimate democratizer and that clean air must be accessible to all.
According to the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, more than 5.5 million people worldwide die prematurely every year due to air pollution. India and China account for 55% of these deaths. This does not account for the millions of people who suffer from heart failure, strokes, asthma, lung damage, and myriad other diseases caused by the simple act of breathing.
As a Chinese-American who has lived and traveled extensively in China, and who currently resides in India, these findings are alarming, and sadly, not too surprising. Just last summer, traveling from Shanghai to Beijing on the train (a 1,200 kilometer ride along the eastern seaboard), I did not see the sun peeking through the smog even once. There are children in coal mining towns in China who have never seen the sun against a blue sky. How does one begin to fathom the psychological effects on a person who has never seen the sun?
My friends living in Beijing complain that their lives and those of their children are dictated by the Air Quality Index monitor. After years spent under the dome, of China’s smog, I am woefully accustomed to air pollution.
Then I moved to Delhi.
I flew right into the thick of Delhi winter smog this past December. Looking out that first evening, admiring the setting of the blood-orange sun behind what seemed to be a hill in the distance, I was filled with excitement to explore this vast and ancient metropolis. I drove past the “hill” the next day, and it turned out to be the city’s landfill, and it was constantly burning. My heart sank.
New to the city, I soaked everything in. The magnificent monuments to the kings, the tantalizing temples to the gods, the vibrant markets with mesmerizing colors and perfumes, long stretches of lush parks, along with exhaust, smoke, fumes and dust. It is difficult to fully appreciate the beauty of the city when you are gasping for breath. A nice morning auto-rick ride along the Yamuna river towards the Red Fort is a peaceful start to the day, until it is rudely interrupted by choking and lightheadedness from sitting in traffic.
PM2.5 is like that loud obnoxious guest that’s ruining the party for everyone. But we need not be held captive by this rude intruder - we can kick this unwanted guest out, if we all join in and help!
The World Health Organization has declared air pollution to be the world’s largest single environmental health risk, and called for a global plan to clean up the air. Countless initiatives are being carried out to combat air pollution. Lessons are learnt across the globe to collectively resolve this dangerous predicament. Transformations can happen. Cities like Los Angeles provide a remarkable glimpse into what a staunchly systematic and collaborative effort can do. The story of air pollution can have a happy ending.
There are small steps that we can all take together. I was elated to be introduced to Care for Air in Delhi. Care for Air is a team of volunteer professionals dedicated to raising public awareness of air pollution by advocating for cleaner and more breathable air in their communities, and ultimately, to affect change. We can kick this unwanted guest out if we all join in and help!
Ye is an international development professional. She has worked on public health issues relating to safe drinking water, malaria and HIV in China and Africa, and has spent the past 5 years working with journalists in China on improving the use of data in reporting, especially in the environment sector. Ye is an avid runner, and hopes to run a marathon one day in Delhi, when the air is cleaner.
Ask any Delhi resident these days to describe the city’s summer weather and they will report “scorching hot” conditions, but for those who check their mobile weather app the current conditions reveal a more sinister story that goes well beyond the record-breaking heat.
Dust. Smoke. Haze. These are the words one sees instead of the usual expected adjectives of “cloudy,” “sunny” or “rain” alongside temperatures reading in the 40’s Celsius.
The sky outside doesn’t always reveal the entire story when it comes to the air we are breathing, air that is often filled with tiny, dangerous particles that harm our health, more so to the most vulnerable – children and elderly.
Delhi’s air leaves a lot to be desired. One thing has become apparent after two rounds of odd-even car rationing it’s going to take more than a two week episode of limited car restrictions to clean up our air.
As a mother to three young children, a professional and a person who loves to get off the sofa and get outside to move – Delhi’s air concerns me. A lot. I go to sleep at night and wake up most mornings wondering what outdoor activities we should shorten or reschedule all together. I think twice before opening the windows until I’ve checked my air quality apps to see what air I might be letting into my home. I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that I have nearly year-round allergies and a dry cough after a four decade allergy-free, healthy life. And my heart was shredded when my otherwise uber-healthy eight year-old woke suddenly over recent months with breathing difficulty and had to be started on inhalers.
Short of packing up and leaving town what is one to do? When faced with an obstacle we try to tackle it, or so I was taught from childhood. There is always a solution. So I’ve tried to learn a lot about this
health and environmental emergency. Many solutions are beyond our reach as individual citizens. But
there are, thankfully, some things we can do. Short-term, interim measures we can take to help
safeguard our health, and the health of our children, from air pollution.
1) Check the readings. Download real time air quality apps to monitor hourly readings and even see
forecasts for the next day. Check out: http://safar.tropmet.res.in/ or http://aqicn.org/city/delhi/r.k.-puram/
2) Avoid aerobic activity during the “bad” air times. That typically means early morning and late
afternoon and evenings. Talk to the coach about moving the children’s cricket, tennis or football
practice to late morning timings. Perhaps on weekends and school holidays, a midday indoor AC
environment is better, e.g. ice skating in Gurgaon.
3) Talk to your child’s school. Ask them to monitor air quality both inside the class room and outside.
Then encourage them to adjust outdoor sports and activities to help limit exposure during the bad
air times. Ask them to create “idle-free zones” on the streets outside the school gates to reduce
“pollution hot spots” in the places where the children walk and wait on a daily basis.
4) Look into buying a high quality face mask that filters out dangerous airborne particles for your child. Look for either N95 or N99 rated masks and be sure the fit is secure with no outside gaps to let
outside air in. The gap would negate the positive benefit and protection from the mask by allowing
pollutant particles back in.
5) Consider an indoor HEPA air filter for your home, specifically for your child’s bedroom. This would
ensure 8-10 hours of sleeping time with cleaner air for your little one. There are some great options
on the market from the affordable SmartAir filter at 3,000 rupees to the pricier options from Sharp and BlueAir. Best to look for air cleaning devices with HEPA filters, the only ones that can remove PM 2.5 particles from the air.
My husband and I knew a bit about Delhi’s air pollution problem before we arrived almost two years ago. My husband’s employer told him about it; we read articles in newspapers and talked to friends of ours who were already living in Delhi. So, we felt pretty informed and prepared to face the air pollution when we arrived. What we found was that no one or no article can prepare you for what the air actually smells like and how it will affect your health.
What I found is that out of everyone in my family – my husband and I have two boys – I’m the most sensitive to the air pollution. The first winter in Delhi I fell ill regularly with headaches, dizziness, fatigue and a feeling of “stuff” in my throat that wouldn’t go away no matter how much I swallowed and drank water or tea. I knew that I couldn’t continue living in Delhi feeling ill all the time and so started to research home air purifiers and masks – solutions that I felt were accessible and within my control. I also found out about the air quality index (AQI) websites that report data on the air quality throughout the day.
I quickly outfitted our house with air purifiers because I could sense that the seal around our windows were not air-tight. I could smell the outdoor air coming in and polluting the inside of our house. I also bought masks and wore them whenever I would go outside. Lucky for me, these solutions did work. I definitely could feel the difference. I wasn’t ill as much.
Delhi’s air pollution is bad, shockingly so and it doesn’t seem to be getting much better. Small solutions like home air purifiers and masks are good to protect your health, but now I’m starting to think about the source of the problem. Some may say that we should leave India alone to go through growth, development and industrialization just like the rest of the developed countries when they did it. If we say ok to leaving India alone, then are we also accepting the horribly bad sanitation and hygiene practices, high disease, death rates, poverty and pollution that plagued the era of industrialization? That’s just unacceptable.
Technologies exist. Cleaner fuels exist. Proven practices, strategies and policies exist. In my view, there is nothing holding India back to getting it right now. It’s just a question of citizen awareness and generating political will to mobilize change.
Susan Perez is a global health advocate and activist. While her expertise has primarily been in the areas of HIV, tuberculosis and reproductive health, she has become more interested and concerned about the impact of air pollution on health. Currently Susan runs her own global health consulting firm.
With the onset of summer in Delhi and the hottest months of the year approaching, concerns about air pollution recede into the background. We have other things to worry about – the approaching scorching heat, water and electricity shortages many still face, flies and open piles of rubbish spreading germs; yet air pollution still shrouds us, our invisible, deadly companion.
The problem is no longer as visible, no longer the in-your-face, eye-stinging, throat-inflaming smog we used to kindly - and incorrectly - refer to as the winter fog. Yet it is still present, just less visible.
As I sit and write this the sky looks a lovely shade of blue and PM 2.5 numbers are hovering just below 198 microns per cubic meter, or even up to 290 depending on which monitor one tracks! That is over 20 times more than the “acceptable” exposure of PM 2.5 of 10-15 microns per cubic meter or less deemed ok for humans by the World Health Organization (WHO).
We have become so used to the horrifically polluted, smog-filled days, month after month from October to February, that when we see anything that seems remotely normal and “clear”, we fool ourselves into thinking the problem has also cleared. That somehow, the bad air, full of noxious gases and deadly PM 2.5 has miraculously blown away.
Well, perhaps some of it has, but definitely not all. It’s the same kind of wishful thinking that has us believing that exposure to pollution builds our immunity or that pranayama and yoga asanas will release the toxins from pollution in our bodies. All untrue and recklessly misleading. I am shocked when time and again I see leading health organizations, doctors and RWA’s make these claims. There is no science to support this. Exposure to air pollution kills in the long term, and creates health problems in the short term.
Air pollution is undoubtedly the major health and environmental issue of our time. It is not only a Delhi issue, but a national emergency. The World Health Organization’s 2014 study of 1,600 cities across 91 countries found 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India; and six of the remaining seven are in our backyard (Pakistan and Bangladesh). Honors no one would desire or hold with pride.
Here in Delhi, talk of air pollution finally gained some ground this past winter. The media covered the problem extensively. Politicians tossed around ideas, new committees were formed, even as we experimented with odd/even schemes for some vehicles.
It’s a start - but there is so much more to be done. Recognition, awareness and education: three important areas, along with long term institutional action in our beautiful capital and beyond.
According to a recent study,PM 2.5 in Delhi is generated from a fragmented mix of contributing factors: Waste burning is 27.5% ; industries add another 13% and diesel gensets contribute 14.6%. Transport certainly does play a large role contributing 22.7% of PM 2.5 generation. As a citizen, I wonder where and how we are addressing each of these areas in order to effectively lower air pollution in New Delhi? In the past year, we’ve only heard of limited vehicle restrictions with odd/even for mere weeks, but no longer term plan has emerged.
Even more worrying is the lack of conversation around our other 12 most polluted cities? What of Patna, Gwalior, Raipur, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Firozabad, Kanpur, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Allahabad, Agra and Khanna? What of the millions of people who live in these cities? They remain as invisible as the air pollution will seem to so many Delhi residents this summer as they remark on the beautiful clear skies.
So as we enter the summer season, let us remember the problem of air pollution has not gone
away. It hides in the shadows, less visible, but very much still there.
Tina Chadha is a founding member of Care For Air. In 2009, she relocated to New Delhi, India. Within her own family, she has felt the impact of India’s air pollution problem. She believes the air we breathe is the ultimate democratizer and that clean air must be accessible to all.
Spring has sprung. Lodhi Garden is grinning with flowers and bees. And along with the new leaves budding from trees and tender shoots sprouting from the earth, spreading a green veil over dusty Delhi, there are falling leaves. Everywhere. Simply everywhere. Each road, neighborhood, garden and alley has that conspicuous mound of fallen leaves, swept up by a conscientious muncipal worker (an oxymoron, but never mind!).
Delhi residents can take pride in the city being among the greenest metros in the country (there's so little we can take pride in, that this is precious indeed!), but the downside is these mounds leaves that no one knows what to do with. If I got paid for every time I've seen these leaves being set on fire by gardeners, muncipal workers, I would be rich. But instead, I'm poorer, at least in health, as the smoke from the burning cause the PM2.5 levels of particulate matter to rise sharply, adding to the already high levels that Delhi air comprises of, contributed by other sources like vehicular and thermal power emissions, brick kilns and regular trash, biomass and crop burning. What is extra frustrating is that unlike the other sources, over which we have even lesser control, burning of leaves, at least those in our own gardens or neighborhood is definitely something we can actively change. If we had the time and the inclination.
I have the latter, but like most of us, its the former, super-precious resource of time to research the solution to composting leaves that I've been struggling with.
When I lived in California, composting and mulching were key to garden health and I even recall taking a weekend composting class at the local community gardens, an emerald oasis in the concrete suburbia of a small West Coast town, on one side of a road named – what else! - Embarcadero. Suburban farmers tried to grow organic lettuce and tomatoes and learnt the benefits of vermicomposting, breathing in clean air as they dug, watered, hoed, sprinkled and shovelled.
When I moved back to New Delhi, I looked for materials and advice on composting - and drew a complete blank. There were one-off classes on composting for terrace and kitchen garden farmers, some vague literature on urban farming, but nothing substantial. Until I found The Daily Dump, where leaf composting was one piece of the larger solution around recycling and waste management.
But it was another two years before I would find myself drawn again and again to their composting solutions as the simplest and best. And it would be another year before I would get to touch their eco-friendly, mostly terracotta products – at my daughter's new school! - where it all came together.
So here's something I've been researching – because I feel that telling people not to burn leaves or biomass, without offering them an alternative isn't really very effective. Or very fair. You come off sounding like a prescriptive, faintly insolent, psuedo-knowledgeable, semi-paranoid I'm-better-than-you sort of clueless person. And so, I'd like to share with everyone reading this post why I've been recommending leaf composting through The Daily Dump, a Bangalore-based design-led company which aims to reduce waste, improve material recovery and enable better livelihoods through voluntary collective action of urban citizens in an organic and enabling manner.
I like that the Dump helps imagine and re-engineer alternative scenarios that can wholistically and mindfully change behaviour for decentralised waste management in homes, communities, offices and public spaces. I like that their videos are simple and easy to follow. I like that it was started by a woman. I like that that Bangalore-based woman's elderly father was manning her stall at a Delhi school supporting his daughter and the environment at the same time. What was there not to like? Their range of segregation products, composters, books and services reflects their mission to enable all to harm less – and treats waste as a resource.
So if you're serious about your (and your children's) lungs and cognitive function and want to do your drop-in-the-ocean bit to bring down PM2.5 levels, at least in your own vicinity, here's what you need to do.
Go to the Daily Dump website, (http://www.dailydump.org) check out their leaf composting video, if you like its simplicity and feel you can do it, order one – or several (for your neighborhood) from one of the 70 partners they have all over India (there are multiple outlets in Delhi and Gurgaon) and begin. Now. Or this weekend. Or by the end of this month. But soon. Then tell others about it. Maybe convince your school to adopt it. Or your Residents Welfare Association.
And if you have any other options for leaf disposal that you're already using and that have worked well for you – please share! Write to us at careforair.org or just simply comment on this blog post.
We are crowdsourcing simple, workable solutions to begin our own journeys towards reducing PM levels in the cities we live and breathe in. Join us.
Jyoti Pande Lavakare
Jyoti Pande Lavakare is an independent columnist, financial journalist and writer who has lived and worked in Britain, the United States and India, writing for international and Indian publications. In a past life, she produced youth programs for radio and television and her children's fiction appeared in Hachette anthologies. She has a Masters in Economics and currently lives in New Delhi with her husband, teens and a wilting kitchen garden.
One keeps seeing ads in newspapers and magazines about the noxious air that we are breathing indoors and how our indoor air is actually 10 times worse than outdoor air and hence we MUST buy an air purifier to breathe cleaner air. Lets not get carried away with this marketing and try to understand if our indoor air really is as bad as it is made out to be.
To understand air quality, we are going to break it up into:.
Gases and Odour: Some of the pollutants from this next category of pollutants are typically what are much higher indoors versus outdoors – sometimes as much as 10 times higher - they are CO2 and VOC’s. SO2, NO2 and O3 are typically higher outdoors. But do air purifiers really address CO2 and VOC’s? No. They do NOT. No air purifier in the world today is capable of reducing or removing CO2. Some of them reduce VOC’s marginally, but truly do NOT do much to these carcinogenic gases – like formaldehyde, benzene, acetone, etc. Hence, one MUST air out their rooms in order to get rid of these toxic gases from the air. So the main claim of indoor air being 10 times worse that outdoors is not even addressed adequately by an air purifier.
Microbiological pollutants: These pollutants are typically marginally higher indoors versus outdoors. And a lot of technologies aim at removing these pollutants from the air – UV, negative ionizers, ozonisers, photo catalytic oxidation, etc. However, one must be extremely cautious about these technologies, as they can produce Ozone as a by-product and end up hurting one in the long run as prolonged exposure to even mild levels of Ozone is very harmful for health. Also, if one eliminates all the bacteria and virus in indoor spaces and makes it sterile, it may not be so good, as living in a sterile environment ALL the time can brings down immunity and one may fall ill if exposed to any bacteria, virus or mold.
But removing the first 2 pollutants (particulate matter and harmful gases) is actually good for us and improves our immunity. If one thinks that by breathing air polluted with PM and gases one is becoming immune and stronger, then one should encourage their children to smoke a packet of cigarettes every day. Now that would be something.
Removing PM2.5 and odor can actually help reduce stress on the lungs and help one breathe better and reduce the symptoms of wheezing and asthma. Hence an air purifier may actually be a good thing – but NOT because our indoor air is 10 times worse than the outdoors.
Barun Aggarwal is an entrepreneur and MBA with multi-continent experience. He has actively engaged in campaigns around climate crisis issues relating to air quality, water conservation, and energy efficiency. Barun founded Breathe Easy Consultants to help improve indoor air quality and is actively engaged with The Climate Project Foundation (the Indian branch of The Climate Reality Project founded by Nobel Laureate Al Gore).
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