In­dian Ocean con­flict must be avoided

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page -

AS thick smog crept over In­dia’s cap­i­tal this past week and smudged land­marks from view, Nikunj Pandey could feel his eyes and throat burn­ing.

Pandey stopped do­ing his reg­u­lar work­outs and said he felt tight­ness in his lungs. He started wear­ing a triple layer of pol­lu­tion masks over his mouth. And he be­came an­gry that he couldn’t safely breathe the air. “This is a ba­sic right,” he said. “A ba­sic right of hu­man­ity.” Pandey is among many peo­ple in New Delhi who have be­come more aware of the toxic air in re­cent years and are in­creas­ingly frus­trated at the lack of mean­ing­ful ac­tion by au­thor­i­ties.

This past week the air was the worst it’s been all year in the cap­i­tal, with mi­cro­scopic par­ti­cles that can af­fect breath­ing and health spik­ing to 75 times the level con­sid­ered safe by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Ex­perts have com­pared breath­ing the air to smok­ing a cou­ple of packs of cig­a­rettes a day. The Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal re­cently es­ti­mated that some 2.5 mil­lion In­di­ans die each year from pol­lu­tion.

United Air­lines sus­pended its flights be­tween New Delhi and Ne­wark, New Jersey, for Sat­ur­day and Sun­day be­cause of the heavy air pol­lu­tion in the In­dian cap­i­tal, said So­nia, an air­line of­fi­cial who uses one name.

Pandey said the mil­lions of ru­ral folk who have moved to the city un­der­stand the prob­lem bet­ter than they once did, and are try­ing ev­ery­thing from ty­ing scarves over their faces to eat­ing “jag­gery,” a sugar cane prod­uct that some peo­ple be­lieve of­fers a range of health ben­e­fits.

Masks once con­sid­ered an af­fec­ta­tion of hypochon­driac tourists are these days rou­tinely worn by gov­ern­ment work­ers and reg­u­lar peo­ple on the street.

Vol­un­teers handed out thou­sands of green sur­gi­cal masks this week to make a point about the pol­lu­tion, but such masks likely have a lim­ited im­pact on keep­ing out the tiny par­ti­cles from peo­ple’s lungs.

“This is truly a health emer­gency,” said An­u­mita Roy­chowd­hury, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of re­search and ad­vo­cacy at New Delhi’s Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment.

She said doc­tors in re­cent days have been deal­ing with a 20 per­cent spike in emer­gency hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions from peo­ple suf­fer­ing heart and lung prob­lems. And that’s in a city, she said, where one in ev­ery three chil­dren al­ready has com­pro­mised lungs.

Seema Upad­hyaya, who heads a pri­mary school, said she has never be­fore wit­nessed so many chil­dren suf­fer­ing from res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses as she has this year. That has prompted changes to the cur­ricu­lum. “It’s im­pact­ing ev­ery­body,” she said. Au­thor­i­ties have been tak­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures to try to mit­i­gate the im­me­di­ate cri­sis. They have tem­po­rar­ily closed schools and stopped most trucks from en­ter­ing the city.

The gov­ern­ment put off a de­ci­sion for ra­tioning car us­age start­ing Mon­day as pol­lu­tion lev­els started com­ing down in the city, said Kailash Gahlot, New Delhi’s trans­port min­is­ter.

But ev­ery­one agrees such mea­sures don’t ad­dress the root causes, which re­main hard to solve.

Roy­chowd­hury said the city’s pol­lu­tion has been trapped this week by a lack of wind at ground level, col­lid­ing winds in the up­per at­mos­phere, and cool­ing tem­per­a­tures.

Air qual­ity typ­i­cally gets worse at this time of year as nearby farm­ers burn fields and peo­ple build street fires to keep warm. The con­di­tions this week prompted the cap­i­tal’s top elected of­fi­cial, Arvind Ke­jri­wal, to de­scribe his city as a “gas cham­ber.”

While crop burn­ing has been banned in and around the cap­i­tal, of­fi­cials say it’s hard to pun­ish im­pov­er­ished farm­ers for con­tin­u­ing tra­di­tional meth­ods that have been handed down through the gen­er­a­tions. Pandey said it’s part of a broader prob­lem in In­dia. “Your wa­ter is not healthy, your food is not healthy, your veg­eta­bles are pol­luted, they are poi­soned,” he said. “I mean, ev­ery­thing is pol­luted right now.”

Roy­chowd­hury said she is en­cour­aged there is ris­ing aware­ness of the air qual­ity prob­lem, both among res­i­dents and the med­i­cal com­mu­nity. But she says au­thor­i­ties need to do more.

She said of­fi­cials have been ask­ing peo­ple this week to use more pub­lic trans­port, but at the same time the city doesn’t have enough buses and hasn’t bought any new ones in re­cent years.

“What we are say­ing, and the Supreme Court has al­ready asked for it, is that there should be a com­pre­hen­sive plan for all sources of pol­lu­tion,” she said.

Mean­while, peo­ple like Pandey say they are go­ing to have to suf­fer through, be­cause New Delhi is where they need to be based for work op­por­tu­ni­ties and their fam­i­lies.

“We are In­dia, right?” he said. “We just try to sur­vive in what­ever con­di­tion we are in. That is how it is.” – The As­so­ci­ated Press

‘Expe s have com­pared breath­ing the air to smok­ing a cou­ple of packs of cigare es a day’

An In­dian boy walks past burn­ing garbage as the morn­ing sun is en­veloped by a blan­ket of smog on the out­skirts of New Delhi, In­dia.

Nikunj Pandey, left, sits with his friends wear­ing pol­lu­tion mask in New Delhi, In­dia.

Pho­tos: AP

In­dian mo­torists ride past a thick blan­ket of smog and dust on the out­skirts of New Delhi, In­dia. Two men pedal their bi­cy­cles past cows en­veloped in the morn­ing smog on the out­skirts of New Delhi, In­dia.

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