Countering Delhi's annual misery
Delhi's air quality is constantly deteriorating and, on Tuesday, it entered the 'severe' category as per the classifications made under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) devised by the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA). The 'severe' category of air quality refers to the worst quality of air pollution — when the concentration of PM 2.5 in the air that we breathe grows high enough for it to affect even healthy persons. EPCA chairman Bhure Lal has said that if the poor air quality persists in the same region for the next two days, which is what is expected given the low wind speed and more stubble-burning related pollution invading the atmosphere from the neighbouring states, it would recommend taking off private vehicles from the roads in the national capital. The air quality in neighbouring Ghaziabad and Noida is even worse than Delhi. "Let us hope the air pollution situation in Delhi doesn't deteriorate or else we will have to stop plying of private vehicles. Only public transport will be used," Bhure Lal said. Heavy commercial vehicles and private vehicles are among the main contributors to pollution, accounting for 25 – 45 per cent of the share.
Another main contributor to Delhi's poor air quality around this time of the year is the prevalence of stubble burning in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. According to health experts, the poor air quality with a high concentration of PM 2.5 affects people of all age groups as the tiny pollutants clog the lungs as well as the veins, severely damaging the functioning of vital organs in the body. From bouts of asthmatic attack to brain strokes, the poor air quality significantly enhances health risks, putting an additional burden on the healthcare system. For a metropolis like Delhi, where the concentration of population is extremely high, the worsening air quality can have far-reaching implications. But like all climatic distress, improving the air quality or mitigating the ill-effects of polluted air is not possible quickly. This crisis exposes people to all kinds of health risks as long as the poor air quality persists. Though EPCA has clarified that it is intending to restrict the movement of private vehicles, the emergency measure cannot be extended beyond 10 or 15 days at a time.
Delhi is one among the many world capitals where air pollution aggravates during the winters and authorities do not know what to do. The Chinese capital Beijing witnesses even worse conditions than Delhi, as the entire city is covered with a thick blanket of smog and haze during the winter. With a spike in industrial activities in China, the pollution in the world's second-largest economy has increased so much that a large number of expatriates prefer to leave the country during the months when air pollution is at its peak; while those who cannot, keep complaining about it.
In developed countries where the income level of people is relatively high with better working conditions, a significant part of the workforce takes a break from work when the weather conditions turn too harsh. In most European countries, people take a long leave during the winter months and head for warmer locations, especially the seaside. Now that even summers are unbearable in many parts of these countries, people take a similar break from their routine and spend time in more salubrious destinations. Unfortunately, people in poor economies like India do not have that luxury — though there are people who prefer to spend their summers at different tourist destinations in the Himalayas and winters next to the sea. But giving this advice to an average Delhiite would be no less than making fun of their situation, where they have to toil day and night to make ends meet.
If nothing much can be done about the rising pollution in cities, we can at least try to build on other aspects of our work and living so that we can avoid the extremities of harsh weather as well as man-made hazards like pollution. India is a big country with plenty of options to spend time in sheer pleasure when the weather and environment are inhospitable in places like Delhi. HR managers must work on such options and come up with worker-friendly initiatives that help them beat the stress and tackle extreme levels of pollution in cities like Delhi.