[Urbanstudy] We're breathing poison, we need to protest

Vinay Baindur yanivbin at gmail.com
Fri Jan 20 04:56:55 CST 2017


http://www.dailyo.in/politics/delhi-pollution-greenpeace-report-india-air-quality/story/1/15171.html


*We're breathing poison, we need to protest**The fact that air pollution
has reached this point despite repeated alarms by activists points to the
lack of political will.*


* |  BETWEEN THE LINES  |  4-minute read |   18-01-2017
<http://www.dailyo.in/date/2017-01-18>*



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The Greenpeace report on air pollution in Indian cities comes at a time
when politics and elections are dominating the news cycle; Diwali smog has
long gone, lifting with it the sense of urgency with which various reports
say air pollution needs to be dealt with.

The Plume Labs App on a friend's phone still shows Delhi air quality as
"extremely serious", and identifies particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen
oxide as key pollutants; its recommendation for outdoor activities, and
that includes eating out in fancy open-air restaurants, is "take it easy",
which can be translated to "avoid".

It is one of the better-air days, because till few days ago it was advising
strictly against any outdoor activity.
[image: 14_011817061029.jpg]
*Despite a crisis of this scale, the response to the pollution problem is
so muted that it is hardly noticeable.* Photo: Reuters

But as long as the smog pressed against the city doesn't force on us the
realisation of inhaling pollutants many times more than their safe limits,
the air we breathe doesn't bother us. Expect governments to be bothered
even less.

*Beyond Delhi*

In the last few years there's been more conversation around the quality of
air we breathe than before, but it has largely focussed on Delhi. It
doesn't make Delhi the only city with unbreathable air, rather just
highlights the fact that smaller cities have few equipments, if they have
them at all, to measure the quality of air their residents breathe.

The Greenpeace report highlights that air pollution is in fact a national
problem, and that air in most of the Indian cities has way more pollutants
than would be deemed safe.

For example, Delhi's annual PM 10 levels in 2015 averaged to 268 µg/m3 (60
microgram per metre cube) which is more than four times the maximum limit
of 60 prescribed by NAAQS (the US National Ambient Air Quality Standards).
At least 11 other cities had an annual PM 10 level higher than 200.

How many meet the NAAQS standard? Just 12 of the 137 cities analysed. And
these numbers are only about PM 10, there are other pollutants that we
haven't even talked about yet.

The gravity of the situation can be guessed by the fact that outdoor air
pollution claims about 1.2 million lives a year in India; to put it a bit
dramatically, 1.2 million people lose their life a year for breathing in
this country.

It is almost 41 times more than global terrorism casualties in 2015, and
more than two times that of lives lost in road accidents in India.

Despite a crisis of this scale, the response to the pollution problem is so
muted that it is hardly noticeable. Delhi's Odd-Even experiment led to more
political noise than results. But other cities haven't even made that noise.

*Brace up for worse*

Air pollution is real and it has reached alarming proportions. What's
equally worrying is the lack of drastic measures that the crisis of this
scale needs.

The Greenpeace report also offers a comparison of air pollution in major
economies and what they are doing about it, and there are many red flags
for India. Let's look at a simple India vs China comparison:

> Between 2010 to 2015, PM 2.5 levels in China have fallen by 17 per cent;
in India, it has increased by 13 per cent

> China's PM 2.5 is consistently falling since 2011; India's is steadily
increasing

> For PM 2.5 monitoring, China has 1,500 stations in 900 cities; India has
just about 40

> China has set 2030 as the deadline for meeting national air quantity
standards; we have no such deadline

> China has national, regional and city-level action plans with measurable
five-year targets; India has seen action in individual cities with no
measurable targets

This comparison shows how mammoth the task on hand is; the concern is that
it is not being addressed as aggressively as it should. If the PM 2.5
levels kept increasing at the current rate, by 2020 we'll have 13 per cent
more of it in our breath.

The fact that we reached this point despite repeated alarms by activists in
the last decade points to the lack of political will.

After Diwali smog, Delhi residents took to streets for their right to
breathe; about time the protests reached every city.
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