Choking air pollution

Kashmir Times. Dated: 11/6/2018 12:10:48 AM

Government agencies in all states need to initiate corrective measures otherwise harmful winter pollution will become the new normal

Harmful air pollution levels are choking almost all major cities in North Indian states at this time of the year as changes in temperature and slowing winds trap soot, dust and fine particulate matter once again. The worst hit is National Capital Region (NCR) as burning of agricultural residue and waste material in the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is releasing huge volumes of smoke containing pollutants and dangerously harmful fine particulates into the air. The problem is further aggravated with the burning of urban solid waste, diesel soot, vehicular emission, road and construction dust particles and power generation that too at this time of the year. Despite the fact that in the top ten most cities of the world, India is host to nine, the government and its agencies have not taken any action that is consistent for tackling the pollution in the country. It is unfortunate that petty politicking is being played by the BJP-government at the centre and others ruling the roost in the corridors of power in states. It is also tragic that instead of joining hands in tackling the killer pollution that claims millions of lives in the country, the political parties in different states are busy in the blame game. The preventive steps initiated by the Delhi government are mocked at by the centre for the reasons best known to the right wing party at the centre. In fact, the checks and balances announced last year by the Delhi government for allowing only certain type of vehicles in the NCR region were sought to be sabotaged instead of finding a solution to the entire issue. Millions of people live with ambient air quality that is well short of even the relaxed parameters the country has set for fine particulates, compared with those of the World Health Organisation (WHO). India should at least now give high importance to the WHO warnings over air pollution being the new tobacco. This year's 'severe' air quality rating for Delhi and poor conditions prevailing in other cities in the Central India should compel a decisive shift in policy. The centre and the state governments particularly in North India need to get into crisis mode to dramatically reduce pollutant emissions. The government must address the burning of carbon, which is a direct source, and emissions with oxides of nitrogen and sulphur from vehicles that turn into fine particulates through atmospheric reactions. Failure to take urgent measures sustainable in the long run will inflict irreversible harm on public health, affecting children even more by putting them at higher risk for respiratory diseases.
It is worth noting that the recent UN Environment Programme's titled 'Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-Based Solutions' has sounded a warning, pointing out that only 8 percent of the population in the countries of the region get to breathe air of acceptable quality. It is also a serious issue that premature mortality rate has risen by more than 60 percent according to a one study of degradation of Delhi's air over a 10-year period beginning 2000. With the steady growth in the population of the capital and other surrounding cities besides expansion of the concrete jungles, the trauma is set to worsen in the years to come. Farm stubble burning is a major contributor to the problem, and it is likely to increase because of rampant use of mechanical harvesters that produce more waste. It appears that the governments and their agencies are not serious in innovations can use climate change funds to turn farm residues into a resource, using technological options such as converting them into bio-fuels and fertilizers. In view of the urban development catching up fast in many parts of India, large cities need to reorient their investments to prioritise public transport, favouring electric and pollution free mobility. Since World Bank has shown its keenness to enhance its lending portfolio to tackle air pollution, India can tap new avenues for this purpose. The respective governments can lay stress on improved public transport services to reduce personalized vehicle population to control air pollution. If governments delay action on the critical issue of pollution control, the public awareness can put pressure on them to act before it is too late.



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