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Why Does Beijing Value Its Citizens More Than Delhi?

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By Shirin Bithal

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

The authorities in Beijing declared a “smog alert” in the city on November 29, when China’s capital recorded a reading of 391 microgram/cubic metre for PM2.5. According to the air quality standards issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), the 24-hour safe standard for PM2.5 is 25 microgram/cubic metre. In other words, the PM2.5 values in Beijing were almost 15 times higher than the safe standards issued by the WHO. This warning came just before the 150 nations were gearing up for the biggest conference on climate change, the Conference of Parties (COP-21) starting in Paris on November 30, where all the leaders decide on mutual targets to tackle the issue of global climate change.

The Chinese Ministry of Environment Protection further forecast severe pollution for the greater Beijing region, western Shandong province and the northern Henan province until Tuesday, December 1. The ministry also asked its public to stay indoors as visibility became an issue along with public health at stake.

Beijing And Delhi—Smog Cities

Like Beijing, New Delhi, the buzzing capital of India, has been plagued with bad air quality for most part of November. New Delhi loses almost 80 lives per day due to PM2.5. The national ambient air quality standard for PM2.5 in India is 60 microgram/cubic metre, over twice the World Health Organization standard.

The air quality in Delhi has been ranked “severe” and “very poor” as per the national air quality index that categorises the pollution based on a colour code and takes the value of the highest pollutant. For Delhi, it is mostly particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) that causes serious health troubles, PM2.5 being extremely fine particles that enter the human lungs and get trapped. The table (left) shows a categorization of air quality in Delhi in the 30 days of November this year.

Out of the 30 days in November, Delhi has been categorised as “very poor” on 20 days and “severe” on eight days. The air quality levels were severe for four consecutive days (November 20-23), which counts as a “smog episode” when pollution levels rise and remain in the worst category of the air quality index for three consecutive days. For most countries, this would mean shutting down schools and industrial units, reducing cars, making public transport free and most importantly, issuing a health warning and advisory. However, there was no warning issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Nor does the public have any health advisory issued advising them to stay indoors or avoid certain activities.

On separately classifying the PM2.5 data given out by Delhi Pollution Control Committee and Central Pollution Control Board under the air quality index categories, the following pie chart was created:

According to this analysis, 72 percent of the days were “severely polluted” in terms of PM2.5 which is the worst category of air quality index. This means severe health problems not only for those suffering from allergies, respiratory and cardiac disorders but also healthy persons.

Image source: Ashok Prabhakaran/Flickr

There are multiple factors adding to Delhi’s current smog situation including paddy burning across Punjab, local garbage and rubble burning and the ever- increasing number of private vehicles on the city’s roads. Delhi also has geographical factors because it is a landlocked megacity and has fewer options of flushing out this polluted air outside the city unlike Mumbai that has a coastal advantage.

While Beijing issued its smog alert at 391 microgram per cubic metre, Delhi has been ailing, with levels crossing 500 microgram/cubic metre. November 29 saw a huge half-marathon in Delhi where thousands of people gathered to run in the early hours of the morning. A real-time exposure monitoring carried out by a researcher of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)’s clean air and sustainable mobility team showed that average PM2.5 values during the marathon were 1,210 microgram per cubic metre, 20 times higher than the 24-hour national air quality safe standard for PM2.5. This is also 68 times higher than the 24-hour safe standard laid out by the WHO. These numbers are not just extremely big but also hold serious health impacts. Air pollution is now linked with stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease as well. We are still struggling with a lack of a concrete air quality forecast and the visibility of the city has gone down due to the thick smog enveloping Delhi.

Why is the value of human lives so low in our city? Is it no person’s responsibility to protect the public and also implement strict measures when the city is ailing and struggling to breathe? As a child, I would always look at constellations (Ursa Major, Orion), the bright red star and evening star. However, I struggle to see a single star now. There has to be an answer from the officials to the growing public health disorders arising from air pollution. Or is it the realisation that because our pollution levels are almost always in the severe category, Delhi will have to have a “smog alert” every day, which means everyone will have to stay indoors all the time? As per the most recent study, in 10 years from now, New Delhi will record the highest premature deaths from air pollution: 32,000 (Max Planck Institute, Germany). This does not mean the rest of India is safe. Currently, air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India, with almost 650,000 premature deaths each year. I demand an answer to my right to clean air. WE demand our right to clean air.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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