Toxic air we breathe

Kashmir Times. Dated: 11/14/2017 12:39:49 PM

Solution to increasing pollution is not in knee-jerk response to repercussions but to addressing the causes holistically

Pollution in and around Delhi, impacting peoples' health and contributing to climate change severely, has been an acknowledged fact for long. Air pollution is the leading environmental cause of death worldwide and results in 1.1 million early deaths in India according to the Global Burden of Disease report. That is why, it is difficult to overlook the criminal negligence of the successive governments in dealing with this crisis non-seriously and without a proper scientific assessment of the pollution, its causes and without planning to effectively deal with it. With the Centre almost washing its hands off the problem and leaving it to the Delhi state government to deal with it through piece-meal efforts, knee jerk reactions and efforts that at best are aimed at combating the consequences of the basic problem, the crisis at hand has become much larger than it is assumed. First of all, the policy makers need to shun the habit of treating the rising pollution levels as something seasonal. Neither is it Delhi specific, though Delhi's toxic air becomes a greater cause of concern. Pollution is something that Delhi and many other parts of the country are grappling with on a daily basis, the year around. Even though this time of the year, as rightly pointed out by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi turns into a gas chamber, there is an overall deterioration in the air quality. Therefore, solutions that address solely the seasonal symptoms would be futile in addressing a problem of mammoth magnitude. Only geographical reasons would account for the seasonal levels of toxicity, which is particularly the case of Delhi and much of north India. Unfortunately, these areas are located in a region where warm air rests above the colder air closer to the ground, preventing it from mixing upwards thereby trapping all that we put into it - almost like a lid, leading to a cover of haze and producing air that is severely polluted. But geographical reasons are not the sole cause of pollution that is a culmination of several factors like hazardous industrial waste, smoke, vehicular pollution, dust and burning of fossil fuels.
There is need to pin-point each and every cause and then based on that draw a holistic plan to check the increasing pollutants in the air. Reports in recent years have pointed out also to the contribution of industrial smoke and the burning of agricultural harvest remains in the states around Delhi, particularly Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, to the phenomenal peak in pollution around this season. This itself points out to the need for greater co-ordination not only between the different departments and ministries of the union government but also co-ordination between the different states. The deteriorating air quality, which has long term health ramifications cannot be allowed to become a political tool in the hands of the politicians who ultimately find solace in passing the buck rather than grappling with an issue which is a collective concern. First of all, the powers that be must recognize the seriousness of the issue at stake and sit up. Second, there is need to scientifically assess the short term and long term consequences of the polluting air on the people and global warming. Third, a scientific assessment of all the root causes of the toxic levels of air, including the seasonal causes, need to be pin-pointed. Fourth, the government must seek help of environmental experts to draw up comprehensive plans and models to tackle the rising pollution, ensuring maximum co-ordination and co-operation of the various concerned departments and the different states. The alarming situation calls for drastic steps and it needs to be understood that the strategy in this battle against pollution will ultimately focus around drastic changes in the way of living - whether it is related to domestic activity, industrial activity, vehicular mobility, agricultural activity and everything else. The bottom line is that this alarming situation must be treated as top priority because clean air is crucial to the very existence of human race.



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