Un­even de­vel­op­ment adds to air pollution

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

Politi­cians and bu­reau­crats across the world — at lo­cal, re­gional and na­tional lev­els — have been com­ing up with new ideas to re­duce air pollution. More re­cently, some have pointed the fin­ger at ru­ral con­tri­bu­tions to air pollution in the de­vel­op­ing world, es­pe­cially in In­dia and China.

Dur­ing Di­wali cel­e­bra­tions at the end of Oc­to­ber, New Delhi’s pollution level was off the charts, ce­ment­ing the In­dian cap­i­tal’s sta­tus as the world’s most pol­luted megac­ity and rekin­dling a na­tion­wide de­bate on In­dia’s killing smog. Of­fi­cial data from the Delhi Pollution Con­trol Com­mit­tee showed haz­ardous lev­els of smog, with con­cen­tra­tions of both PM2.5 and PM10 — harm­ful par­tic­u­lates with a di­am­e­ter of 2.5 and 10 mi­crom­e­ters or less — hit­ting lev­els more than 30 times the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s rec­om­mended 24 hour av­er­age limit.

Over the last few years In­dia has held mul­ti­ple con­fer­ences and work­shops to find a so­lu­tion to the smog. A re­gional ap­proach is the most com­mon sug­ges­tion to have emerged from these con­fer­ences, but the sit­u­a­tion on the ground has not changed. In fact, it is get­ting worse with each pass­ing year.

In­dia has more than 100 coal­based power plants (and over 400 units) with old tech­nol­ogy, with burning of crop re­mains adding to the emis­sions. And New Delhi’s no­to­ri­ous pollution is the re­sult of a nox­ious cock­tail of emis­sions from ve­hi­cles and coal-fired pow- er plants, fumes from cook­ing stoves and crop-burning in neigh­bor­ing prov­inces.

In Bei­jing, where air pollution is be­ing treated as a health emer­gency, the gov­ern­ment can order cars off the road and shut down schools and in­dus­tries if par­tic­u­lates threaten to rise to the high­est WHO level — New Delhi’s level of pollution is unimag­in­able in Bei­jing.

North China, which bat­tles smog in the win­ter, also has the prob­lem of crop burning. So pollution cre­ated by crop burning is not a prob­lem unique to In­dia. Some lo­cal gov­ern­ments in China are pe­nal­iz­ing farm­ers who burn their crop re­mains and thus con­trib­ute to the air pollution in nearby cities. The prob­lem is, farm­ers of­ten burn crop re­mains as it is the only way to treat re­mains, and they have to burn coals to keep warm dur­ing the freez­ing win­ter in North China be­cause they lack other means of heat­ing.

Some will say this re­flects el­e­ments of un­bal­anced eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the un­fair­ness be­tween ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas is at the heart of the issue. The in­dus­try-based de­vel­op­ment in big cities such as Bei­jing and Shang­hai would not have been pos­si­ble without draw­ing water, en­ergy and hu­man re­sources from nearly re­gions, which were en­cour­aged to fo­cus on agri­cul­ture at the ex­pense of de­vel­op­ment. Now, as the big cities shift to the service sec­tor in their pur­suit of cleaner air, the re­gions are again un­der pres­sure to forego en­vi­ron­men­tally pol­lut­ing de­vel- op­ment. Un­der­stand­ably, they are re­sist­ing it.

Many peo­ple ask what op­tions farm­ers have to keep them­selves warm in the win­ter ex­cept by burning crop re­mains.

Clearly more needs to be done for ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and of­fer­ing farm­ers other sources of heat­ing dur­ing the win­ter months. Ide­ally, they should be pro­vided with al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sources, so­lar power or nat­u­ral gas for ex­am­ple, to keep their homes warm in the freez­ing win­ter.

This can be achieved by China without much dif­fi­culty, be­cause the coun­try leads the world in in­vest­ment in re­new­able en­ergy. The scheme, how­ever, needs to be tar­geted at ru­ral farm­ers if we want them to stop adding to the air pollution of cities. Such a de­vel­op­ment is some­thing I look for­ward to dur­ing

my vis­its to China.

The au­thor is a for­mer mem­ber of Lon­don As­sem­bly.


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