Countering repercussions of climate
Better sensitisation at all levels could substantially and sustainably reduce toxins in the air.
The United Nations framework convention on Climate Change at Bonn, Germany comes at a point when the ramifications of global warming is threatening to reach tipping point unless corrective measures are implemented across nations on a mission mode. The outcome of the convention and policy measures suggested to prevent climate change will be timely for India to implement them.
The increasing levels of persistent toxicity in the air in Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR) affirms utter disregard for the environment. The pollution all around the Capital has been a cause of great concern drawing the attention of all stakeholders. Many government agencies have swung into action to curb the menace. The thick smog in the atmosphere has thrown normal life out of gear. But it is only an early sign of an impending disaster. Permanent and sustained multipronged measures are not taken to address the hazard. Quick measures such as closing of schools, banning of entry of heavy vehicles, considering restrictions on plying normal transport, stopping construction activities etc., can only treat the symptoms.
Looking to the gravity of Air Quality Index (AQI), the National Green Tribunal (NGT) permitted roll-out of 'odd-even' rationing scheme for movement of vehicular traffic which is yet to be implemented. Due to such emergency measures and voluntary restraint of individuals, the pollution levels is on descent but continuous to be poor and unsafe. But can such brief measures for a short period be a panacea against the lingering threat? Perhaps better sensitisation is needed at all levels to reduce the toxins in the air on sustainable basis. The root cause analysis and calibrating medium to long-term measures is essential to cleanse the air.
Threatening Air Quality
The air pollution is measured by World Health Organization (WHO) in terms of inhalable pollutants referred to as 'Particulate Matter (PM)' that comprise of fine toxic pollution moisturised or dry particles suspended in the air. (i) PM2.5 – where its concentration is in a diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers or smaller. (ii) PM 10 – Consists of concentration of PM with diameters that are generally 10 micro meters or less. The PM manifesting as smog is so small and invisible that it seamlessly enters lungs, cardiovascular regions in the body and eventually can hit vital organs if exposed for prolonged period. The adverse impact of inhaling such PM can also reduce the life expectancy. Though tolerance levels towards inhaling PM from polluted atmosphere differs among individuals, the common standards are set at 60 for PM2.5 and 100 for PM10. As against it, for example, the Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi recorded a dangerous level of PM2.5 reaching 517 and PM10 scaling up to 820 on November 7, 2017. The air pollutants condensing into, PM stems from complex harmful chemicals such as dust, smokestacks, garbage and stubble fire, dust of construction sites, soot of garbage fire, vehicular pollution, toxic gaseous emissions from industry, and from many more sources of global warming activities. The hospital waste, carbon emissions, power plants, domestic garbage adds further junk in the atmosphere. In developing economies where infrastructure projects and civic amenities are built continuously, innovative measures have to be put in place to curb pollution in all walks of life.
Ramifications of rising air pollution
The economic impact of persistent air pollution is infinite. The slowdown in business and mobility of people is inevitable when it comes to protecting public health. Wearing masks and opting to stay indoors for fear of health hazards reduced national productivity that cannot be quantified. Reports indicate that some residents have even opted to move to nearby safe cities till the haze of toxicity subsides. If not appropriately tackled, individuals may even plan to migrate from such megacities to better and cozy places with consequential debilitating impact on trade, commerce and industry. Ultimately, it will slowdown Gross Domestic product (GDP).
The instances of US-based United Airlines refusing to fly to Delhi adds to the ignominy. The slowdown in inbound tourist traffic could hit hotel and commercial businesses that ultimately cuts unorganised employment in tourist spots. The surge in air pollution threatening the health is not a recent development. Every such spell rebounds with greater intensity due to atmospheric conditions that trap pollutants close to the surface of the earth and reduces the rate at which it can disperse. If not acted upon, the toxic pollutants persisting within the breathable range is sure to damage the health of even healthy individuals. Children and ailing elders will experience greater damage. Thus the economic impact of pollution will be difficult to measure. Its lingering persistence will have long-term impact on the prospects of the economy.
The exacerbating atmospheric pollution is a global menace. No country could be completely spared but lack of sensitivity and ignorance at the grass root level adds to the misery. According to the WHO, India ranks among the top ten of the top 50 most polluted countries in the world. Similarly, 22 Indian cities rank among the top 50 most polluted cities in the world. 33 cities figure among top 100 most polluted cities in the world. The intensity of city pollution is measured keeping in view the average PM 2.5 index recorded with reference to the standard of 60. Accordingly, Delhi is 11th in the spot in 2016 with average PM 2.5 index standing at 153. Other cities have even overtaken Delhi in 2016 compared to 2014. Gwalior -176, Allahabad -170, Patna – 149, Raipur – 144. Other polluted cities down the league are Kanpur, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Khanna and so on. When seen together, pollution levels in Gwalior gets the dubious distinction of being the most polluted city in India and second worst polluted city in the global map.
The concentration of population in urban centers with limited civic infrastructure and low garbage disposal system is adding to the fury. More and more geographies are entering the danger zone with population concentrated in emerging urban agglomerations.
Among many factors, the spate of global warming is identified as the underlying reason for the increase in air pollution. Since climate change is now affecting every country on every continent, the recent initiative is intended to address climate change. Several countries have adopted an agreement known as Paris Agreement on November 4, 2016, wherein all countries have agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius during the century, and given the grave risks, to strive to contain it at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Implementation of the Paris Agreement is essential for the achievement of the Sustainable Development goals and to provide a roadmap for climate actions that will reduce emissions and build climate resilience. Combating climate change will need a set of reinforced actions and a global partnership in protecting the environment failing which the health and happiness of future generations.
Reduction of air pollution on perpetual basis calls for inclusive efforts and greater public sensitisation towards reduction of garbage and to impress upon farmers to avoid stubble burning. Not to accumulate combustible solid waste. Endeavor recycling of waste or reuse wherever possible. Massive campaigns for public awareness in controlling carbon footprints by reducing use of vehicles, white goods, diesel generator sets and modern equipment that consume energy. Tree plantation, rainwater harvesting and increased use of non-conventional energy such as solar, hydro and wind power are some more measures.
There is an urgent need to make lifestyle changes and pursue social campaigns like 'Swachh Bharat' to cleanse the air surrounding us. The efforts have to inclusive beginning from individuals, business entities, corporates to industries and heavy industries and government entities. Unless tackling pollution becomes a passionate campaign on a continuous basis in everyday life, the warming of the earth will turn toxic for coming generations and may impair its habitability.
(Dr. K. Srinivasa Rao is Director, National Institute of Banking studies and Corporate Management – NIBSCOM. The views expressed are strictly prsonal.)