Winter has arrived and the cities in India have been caught unprepared this year with no hands-on solutions available to tackle the problem of poor air quality. The problem is so severe that even many air quality indices have touched their upper limit and can no longer tell the severity of the problem. Though Delhi may be in focus in media but the problem goes much beyond the national capital. Governments in many states are taking various measures but there are many initiatives which local governments, individuals and communities can take to keep their cities’ air clean and breathable
Local Governments cater to a range of services to citizens for their day-to-day needs; whether it is picking of garbage from households, cleaning streets and lanes, lighting up roads, or providing water supply to houses. Municipalities help people run their daily lives smoothly. The mentioned services are definitely important for urban living but nothing can be more important than clean air that everyone, poor or rich, young or old, man or woman, breathes. When national and state governments are failing almost every year, local governments must pull up their socks and enforce stringent actions to ensure all stakeholders are held accountable and are forced to clean up their acts.
This is quite strange that many cities around Delhi like Gurugram, Meerut, Karnal, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and many other North Indian cities are facing air pollution of almost same proportion or even worse but the state governments have not taken any concrete action to address the issue in their cities. They are just waiting for the Supreme Court to give them guidelines on curbing pollution. This has been proved right at many instances when the apex court pulled up the Chief Secretaries of these states and questioned their inaction.
Delhi, however, has taken a slew of measures to protect its citizens from foul air quality but to no avail. Inspired by Beijing, Delhi came up with Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) that has a host of actions including vehicle rationing scheme, banning of construction and industrial activities when the air quality is poor.
Beijing, once among the most polluted cities, has managed to clean its air to a safe level. A few years ago, Beijing air quality hovered somewhere between 300-700 on AQI but today it has drastically come down in two digits and many monitoring stations in the city even report air pollution level below 50 now. In this winter and just after Diwali, Delhi’s AQI was reported to have touched 999 that is because it is the maximum limit which an air quality monitoring device can report. The situation may have been worse. It is to be noted that the safe level AQI is 0-50.
The negative health impacts of poor air quality isa major concern worldwide. Exposure to poor air quality has severe health impacts and the data suggests that over seven million people died last year because of air pollution. People breathing in Delhi’s air bring air pollutants deep into their lungs, so it’s no surprise that air pollution causes serious damage to the respiratory tract. Air pollution exposure can trigger new cases of asthma, exacerbate(worsen) a previously-existing respiratory illness, and provoke development or progression of chronic illnesses including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and emphysema. Air pollutants also negatively and significantly harm lung development, creating an additional risk factor for developing lung diseases later in life.
Beijing, once among the most polluted cities, has managed to clean its air to safe level. A few years ago, Beijing air quality hovered somewhere between 300-700 on AQI but today it has drastically come down in two digits and many monitoring stations in the city even report air pollution level below 50 now. In this winter and just after Diwali, Delhi’s AQI was reported to have touched 999 that is because it is the maximum limit which an air quality monitoring device can report. The situation may have been worse. It is to be noted that the safe level AQI is 0-50.
Particulate matter pollution is an environmental health problem that affects people worldwide, but low- and middle-income countries disproportionately experience this burden. According to a World Bank report, ambient air pollution is estimated to cause about 16% of the lung cancer deaths, 25% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) deaths, about 17% of ischemic heart disease and stroke, and about 26% of respiratory infection deaths. World Health Organisation also states that 9 in 10 citizens around the world breathe dirty air, and 7 million people die prematurely each year due to air pollution. Air pollution is creating a global public health crisis – one that is rooted in social injustice. Typically, it is the poorest and most vulnerable communities that are most affected by dirty, polluted air.
Air pollution, people and ULBs
There are several factors that are contributing to air pollution including stubble burning in villages, vehicular pollution, industrial pollution, and waste burning.
The role of local governments in ensuring clean air had not been much talked about. Their role is limited to keeping the streets clean, imposing fines on people for burning garbage, and monitoring industrial and construction activities. The elected representatives and municipal officials can also run a campaign to make people aware of the hazards of air pollution.
Local governments can spread awareness on harmful effects of bursting crackers on citizens’ health. Irrespective of festivals or occasion, people need to stay away for bursting crackers. There are many small, but critical sources of air pollution in our homes and neighbourhoods. Whether it is small coal-powered tandoors in nearby dhabas or burning of garden and street cleaning waste in the morning by street sweepers or using cars for small distances, these actions contribute significantly to air pollution. People can surely start with using their car less. There are certain actions which only governments can take but there are certain initiatives which people can promote e and bring about change. Citizens can also form communities which propagate the idea of using public transport but for that the local governments have to make sure that people can easily walk to public transit systems. There are many places where people are willing to walk but the walking spaces have been either encroached or in poor shape.
There are certain actions that are obvious but people do not give heed. Citizens and local governments both must plant and care for trees. Trees filter pollutants and absorb carbon dioxide. There are many living room plants which can help in keeping indoor air clean. Trees also release oxygen into the atmosphere and help cool our homes. Another step that people can take is to use less energy. High energy consumption is indirectly responsible for poor air quality because most of the energy our cities are guzzling is generated through coal-powered plants that cause serious air pollution.
Each one of us must do our bit so that together, we can help keep the air clean!