Thursday, May 30, 2024

Why your kid could grow up with a damaged lung

Delhi is world’s most polluted city. Sarojini Nagar, Chandni Chowk and Anand Vihar are worst of the worst. Imagine what the traffic cops have to cop it. I am told most refuse to wear the air mask as whistling through it is impossible. For long hours of crowded traffic hours, they consume high toxic air, blaring horns, smoke and dust. Thus unknown to them, respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer is their fate.

Half of Delhi’s 44 lakh children would grow up with incurable lung damage. Nation-wide, 12 other Indian cities are rated by World Health Organisation (WHO) as similarly bad. Some 660 million Indians lose 3.2 years of their lives on an average. Or, more than 2 billion life years are lost. Air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India.

Delhi has air-pollution levels worse than 2.5 PM (Particulate Matter) which is made up of solid particles or liquid droplets in the air. Such particles are smaller than 2.5 micrometers, that’s 100 times thinner than a human hair, and it invades the innermost parts of the lung. Vehicular emissions of cars and buses; taxis and autos; smelting and processing metals of plants, slash-and-burn methods of farmers lead to a spiralling effect.

The time to mark in your air-calendar is Deepawali, the festival of lights, which burst hundreds of thousands of firecrackers. The onset of winter traps the air in the city. Softer sunshine is no help—it actually adds energy to the gas mix in the air, which sets off a chemical reaction that causes smog. The topography of Delhi, with its bowl-like terrain that doesn’t allow dirty air and construction-dust to escape, doesn’t help.

As can be understood, air-pollution is easy to pinpoint. First, energy plants which have issues of fossil fuels, biomass and waste. Second is vehicular pollutions—some 5 lakh vehicles are added on Delhi roads every year. Third is burning up of agricultural fields.

Delhi had picked up the cudgels to fight the air pollution in 2001-03 when about 6,000 diesel-powered buses were made to convert to CNG. Three-wheelers and taxis were asked to do the same. Commercial vehicles older than 15 years were taken off the roads. Delhi did then improve its air quality. Now the issue is back with a vengeance.

Air pollution can be brought under control and we have the examples of London and Los Angeles who were shrouded in heavy smog in the 1950s and 60s and are now much, much cleaner these days.  Delhi government’s measures, even though at Supreme Court’s prompt, is a good start. The city needs more dependence on public transport. The peripheral highways need be improved. More CNG stations are required. Plug points for electric vehicles are needed too. Rooftop Solar energy and other ways of renewable power generation can encourage shift away from coal-fired power plants. Public participation in these drives is paramount. It must be secured by consent. If  persuasion doesn’t work, then punishment must.

State-of-the-art air filters need be added to industrial and power plants. Same for vehicles. Public transport and taxis should be forced to switch from petrol to cleaner fuels. All these measures need to be rigorously imposed. Some 400 million Indians don’t have electricity which conveys you the magnitude of problem facing governance of this country.

The government has announced a National Air Quality Index measure through a website. That’s not enough. There must be better ways to communicate the health hazards—like China does with its “orange” danger warnings which closes down schools and asks citizens to stay indoors. And we haven’t come to discuss yet the declining green cover by way of disappearing trees, plants, vegetation, water bodies and the damage to its animals and livestocks.

Breathing fresh, clear air is such an overriding priority. Humanity went in an overdrive with its zest for industrialization in the last few centuries. It would appear the nature is enforcing its own code at last. Science is being shown its limit by the nature. It must submit to the matrix of nature or we all suffer—and die. 

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