Delhi-NCR cit­i­zens will soon need 5 oxy­gen cylin­ders a day to sur­vive pol­lu­tion: Ex­perts

The Free Press Journal - - NATION - ASHOK DIXIT

Ris­ing pol­lu­tion lev­els in Delhi and the ex­tended Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion (NCR) could soon see in­hab­i­tants walk­ing around with oxy­gen cylin­ders on their backs to counter it, warn ex­perts ad­ding that a per­son would need at least five oxy­gen cylin­ders a day.

Ris­ing pol­lu­tion lev­els in Delhi has become the cause of sev­eral ail­ments, in­clud­ing pre­ma­ture birth, de­crease in lung im­mu­nity, al­ler­gies or ag­gra­va­tion of ex­ist­ing al­ler­gies, strokes, heart and lung dis­ease, cancer and other acute res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases.

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO) says 92 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing in In­dia, lives in ar­eas where air qual­ity is be­low ac­cept­able stan­dards. It also says that about 88 per­cent of pre­ma­ture deaths oc­cur in low and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries where air pol­lu­tion is high and es­ca­lat­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the web site del­hi­air.org, air pol­lu­tion in Delhi-NCR oc­curs due to a com­plex mix of pol­lu­tion from hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties such as ve­hi­cle emis­sions, in­dus­try, con­struc­tion, res­i­den­tial fuel burn­ing, dust and sea salt.

Heavy con­cen­tra­tion of par­tic­u­late mat­ter is greatly af­fected by me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions –in the win­ter, cool air causes “in­ver­sions” that stag­nant the air and trap pol­lu­tion close to the ground. Also, air flow pat­terns from Afghanistan and Pak­istan pick up emis­sions as they move over the densely ur­banised re­gions of Pun­jab and Haryana. Farm­ers in these two states burn the straw in their fields and this pulls pol­lu­tion into Delhi and its sur­round­ing neigh­bour­hood. Pre-mon­soon dust storms and city ac­tiv­i­ties also con­trib­ute.

The web site fur­ther re­veals that the NCR gen­er­ates 10,000 tons per day of mu­nic­i­pal solid waste, much of which is even­tu­ally burned, and thus, ad­ding par­tic­u­late pol­lu­tion to the air. Gal­lop­ing ur­ban­i­sa­tion brings mas­sive con­struc­tion projects to the area. In ad­di­tion, Delhi has over a crore ve­hi­cle on its roads, and the re­sult is an­other pol­lu­tion “hotspot.”

ANI ap­proached a cou­ple of ex­perts to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the causes be­hind this men­ace, and what steps needed to be taken to re­duce it.

An­u­mita Roy­chowd­hury, Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor (Re­search and Ad­vo­cacy) and head of the air pol­lu­tion and clean trans­porta­tion pro­gramme at the Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment (CSE) said, “The is­sue of deal­ing with and coun­ter­ing the prob­lem of ris­ing pol­lu­tion is not as sim­plis­tic as it ap­pears. Post2009, we saw a slow-down in ac­tions re­lated to and around pol­lu­tion. We were los­ing out on the gains made prior to 2009, and as a re­sult, the scale of pol­lu­tion again in­creased.”

When asked for a com­ment on how pol­lu­tion is im­pact­ing the lives of the home­less pop­u­la­tion in the NCR, es­pe­cially those liv­ing on­side walks and in the Trans-Ya­muna area, and how they burn items like dis­carded pa­per, tyres (avail­able for as lit­tle as Rs 10), wood, shoes et al to keep them­selves rea­son­ably warm dur­ing the win­ter, Roy­chowd­hury said, “This win­ter, an emer­gency, graded re­sponse ac­tion plan has been ac­ti­vated on the di­rec­tion of the Supreme Court. What is de­sir­able is a com­pre­hen­sive ac­tion plan (and) ad­di­tional mea­sures that ad­dress is­sues like pro­vid­ing more af­ford­able hous­ing and rentable stock, en­sure Euro-6 stan­dards to re­duce ve­hic­u­lar emis­sions, re­duce move­ment of per­sonal ve­hi­cles by in­creas­ing pur­chase cost and im­pose more taxes and put in place a park­ing pol­icy for pub­lic ar­eas, and in­tro­duce proper waste man­age­ment.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Chan­draveer Singh bluntly said, “The prob­lem of air pol­lu­tion is not new, it has been there for ages and we talk about it, ex­press alarm about it, wres­tle with it year in and year-out, and al­most never come up with a well con­sid­ered strat­egy to min­i­mize it, yet alone counter it.”

“There is a need to gen­er­ate aware­ness, im­prove co­or­di­na­tion be­tween civic bod­ies, the gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple. We have a dif­fi­cult task on our hands, and if we don’t take ap­pro­pri­ate emer­gency steps, we are look­ing at a Delhi-NCR where peo­ple will be walk­ing around with at least five oxy­gen cylin­ders on their backs in a cou­ple of years. The tem­po­rary clos­ing of schools is not a so­lu­tion at all,” he added.

On is­sues such as ve­hi­cle emis­sions, in­dus­trial pol­lu­tion, con­struc­tion, res­i­den­tial fuel burn­ing and dust, Chan­draveer Singh cat­e­gor­i­cally blamed the gov­ern­ment for non-com­pli­ance with re­cent or­ders of the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (NGT), and added that there is no in­fra­struc­ture in place at the state or cen­tral level to en­sure cor­rec­tive ac­tion. Go­ing a step fur­ther, he said that by and large, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is “clue­less” on the counter-pol­lu­tion nar­ra­tive.

“It is im­por­tant for states to co­or­di­nate more ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently with each other. All stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the Cen­tre, have a role to play. It is up to them to bell the cat of pol­lu­tion,” Singh added.

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