Millennium Post

Concerning the air

Concerning the air

A change in the direction of wind taking with it the smoke from burning stubble in neighbouring regions, dipping temperatures and a fall in local wind speeds have together caused Delhi's air quality to worsen once again to the 'severe' category. What stands out in this line of explanation is that the reason for the environmental crisis has been attributed to seasonal factors which only add to the existing condition and not cause it altogether. The rapid urbanisation that happened and even continues to happen with little regard to the degrading environment, the price of it is paid by the very who have in any which manner contributed to the hazardous air. The depleting green cover is the primary reason for the worrisome state of air quality in many places, especially in north India. A graver aspect to have come up is that Delhi air quality is what it is due to the rice fields that India doesn't need. This is considering that crop burning had contributed 44 per cent on October 31 to Delhi's PM2.5 level, a measure of dangerous particles in the air. The annual burning the stubbles (which is a low cost alternative to mechanical tilling) of harvested rice crop lead to a pervasive haze in the national capital territory and surrounding regions causing serious damages to the health of the inhabitants. And owing to the subsides of the government, the production of rice in this manner has exceeded the requirement for consumption. Also, given that paddy is a water-guzzling crop, it is also a significant contributor of green house gases. However, as farmers are encouraged to grow paddy with support of the government, India has become the world's largest exporter of rice and government stockpiles contain more than twice of what is required. India exports more than 11 million tons of rice annually and has about 25 million tons of rice and nearly 4 million tons of unmilled grain in buffer stocks which is enough to feed the nation for more than three months. Although a law was enacted in 2009 which bars farmers in the northern state of Punjab from sowing rice until mid-June to conserve ground water, it does little to address the larger situation and concern of the farmers' livelihood and also leaving them with little time to clear the fields to sow wheat before the winter. Hence the instant solution to burn the crop residue and clear and sanitise the soil. Given this situation, the onus falls on the government to make a shift in its policies and encourage farmers to grow other crops and address this imbalance which is bound to affect food security and also address the air quality matter in the process. Moving away rice to less water-intensive crops such as soybeans, pulses, and maize will make a difference to the quality of the environment too. Farmers in northwest India continue to grow rice and wheat as the government buys the harvest at guaranteed prices to sell the food at subsidised rates to the poor. The government expects to spend 1.51 trillion rupees (that is $21 billion) on food subsidies in 2019-20. This situation is also an opportunity to address food security by extending support to wider variety of food crops.

Air pollution in this country is responsible for several serious health issue. A study based on 2016 data has revealed that at least 140 million people in India breathe air that is at least 10 times over the World Health Organisation safe limit and 13 of the world's 20 cities with the highest annual levels of air pollution are in India. Causing premature deaths of 2 million Indians every year, air pollution in urban areas comes largely from emissions from vehicles and industry, and in rural areas, biomass burning for cooking and keeping warm pollute the air. Promoting the use of cleaner fuel, preventing the occurrence of traffic congestions, controlling the spread of dust from endless constructions in the city, etc. are some of the immediate measures to undertake in order to mitigate the situation. If burning crop residue is the primary reason for the seasonal smog that occurs nearly every year, providing alternatives to that is the obvious solution. Further, several reports including one by the World Health Organisation claim that 300,000 to 400,000 people in India die of indoor air pollution and carbon monoxide poisoning due to biomass burning. In the pre-occupying crisis of deteriorated air quality, the attention to indoor air pollution is often missed. Exposure to particulate matter for a prolonged period could cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer, and even heart attack. Given the extent to which air pollution affects the health of individuals, the larger question of health cover available to common people and the huge amount of out of pocket expenses is one of parallel importance. Enforcing necessary changes is, however, not entirely upto the government and the common people, once sensitised, could also help mitigate the situation at their end. The attitude of the public and the role of the government are the two most important factors that will help realise any change in making the air better and suitably breathable. Increasing green cover in the city and around homes is a good place to start.

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