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.
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