Air pollution: Why should we care?

How badly are we affected?

Urban Air Pollution (UAP) has become a major problem across the world, especially in a major issue in South Asian Countries. High population growth with increasing purchasing power, the population of motorized vehicles have increased resulting in severe air pollution affecting the environment and human health. Each year, an estimated 7 million premature deaths are attributed to household and ambient (outdoor) PM2.5 air pollution. World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that more than 2 million deaths per year is caused by Urban Air Pollution. Out of this 60% of the mortality or morbidity is caused Outdoor Air Pollution in South Asia.

Recently I attended a dialogue session on Air Pollution for Delhi NCR region. No doubt that the region is affected by unhealthy air quality indexes but air pollution is not just limited to Delhi region. If you can get a satellite image, you will see that a swath of brown cloud covers the entire Indo-Gangatic plain. With on setting of winter, inversion of temperature in the atmosphere takes place. This leads to trapping of pollutant matters at a very low level giving us smog. Smog in Delhi after Diwali and burning of bio-mass in Punjab and Haryana leads to the bad air quality we experience each year. These two factors are actually providing a sharp peak in the AQI but all throughout the year there are pollutants from polluting industries that we do not feel about.

Today I would like to show you some facts on how the air quality is affecting us and how it has changed over the years. I know that most of people who reads my article are my friends from Northeast and they would feel right now that pollution is not affecting the region as such. However, with coming times we will have this problem. The fact is we all want a better lifestyle and development of our region. Most governments showcase development through industries. We certainly do need industries but is it worth it at the cost of our lives?

Let me tell you a few facts how badly we have been affected by Air Pollution. These facts have been shared by a lung specialist who has experience over 30 years. According to him in the last 30 years there has been a rise in non-smoker people with lung cancer. Statistically, the share of non-smoker cancer patients was 10% in 1980 while it has risen up by 50% in 2018. Moreover, cognitive development reduces in children who are exposed for prolonged periods. Now, most of the modern lifestyle diseases can be attributed Air Pollution too. According to the doctor, he has seen a drastic change in the lung colour, even for teenagers in these 30 years. In short Air Pollution is nothing but gives us disease, disability, death and economic loss.

Economic loss due to Air Pollution is huge concern in many countries. At an average Air Pollution leads to about 2% loss in GDP. For a country like India, this loss might be about 8.5%. According to US Environment Protection Agency, every dollar invested to curb air pollution will lead to $30 dollars benefit.

What can we do?

As pointed out in several discourses and what most industries would say, ‘emissions will be there for any developing country’, I would like to add that we must ‘try’ to establish emission free industries. Well this might seem a bit paradoxical in nature but we can start with renewable energy sources and waste to energy sources for low heat requirement sectors. As Northeast is developing now, I would urge the state governments to come up with policies to ‘make sure’ that newly established industries in the region source their energy requirement from renewable.

Globally, UN has come up with the Sustainable Development Goals and there is no doubt that we can create industries in this manner. I would certainly recommend that industries with low power and heat energy requirement should go for alternative sources. This will reduce emissions by about 30% (this for already existing units, for future units or projects we can assume it will reduce far more).

The responsibility for curbing Air Pollution not only rests with the government but with us too. Since India is a democratic country, people need to be vocal verbally and with actions. I have always supported the idea of polycentric governance. We as a community should also start our activities. Firstly, for peak pollution we can reduce our crackers. Instead of individual Diwali, we can have community Diwali. Diwali, where based upon the colony, we can buy required stuffs. The scenario is something like Dussehra.

Secondly, for vehicular emissions, we should try to follow the new Bharat Standards. I know that transforming from BSIV to BSVI will take a long time but we can start with it the next time we buy a vehicle. Electric mobility is something we can explore. Instead of traditional two wheelers we can opt for E-motorcycles. I know buying a car is big deal and it will take time with government subsidies coming in. Public transport and sharing will also help in reducing emissions. I know that a lot of tire 2 cities do not have proper transport systems however, e-rickshaws, Vikrams, CNG-autos, if we share, is a path towards lower emissions.

Another factor is the bio-mass burning at homes. I know that schemes like Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) are not fully functioning to its potential due to local problems, but tweaking it bit at a State Level provides ample opportunity. These schemes will not only provide clean cooking, but reduce both indoor and out door pollution. Civil Society Organizations can look into the policies to provide maximum support to households.

There is a lot which I can write but I do not want to bore you with a long article. The list of what we can do is long but I would say that there is no magic bullet to fix the problem. The pollutants have accumulated over the years and it will take us a few years to reduce if we act now. The solution lies with us if we all together. Let us remember that the government is of the people, by the people and for the people. If we take a stand and want to change, we shall achieve our goal. It might look difficult but it is not impossible.

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