Most of the people in Delhi, like me, look forward to the winters in the city. They wait to experience the delights that the season has to offer. The scorching sun becomes a shimmering haven. Migratory birds are a treat for bird watchers, and flowers in their blooming glory are a beauty for the onlookers. We can relish lazy walks in the glorified gardens of the city, ditch the shopping malls in exchange of outdoor picnics with family, attend more carnivals, fests, day events and experience a whole bunch of exciting activities in the city. Sadly, this year is like witnessing a different winter experience altogether. Thanks to changes in the environment and ever-rising pollution levels in our city, winter is not what it used to be.
We are spending most of the time struggling with our air purifiers, purifying masks and other precautionary activities to safeguard ourselves from the wrath of the emergency that has engulfed the entire city.
The past few years are a testimony to the changing winter scenario in the northern part of our country. As the mercury dips, fog transforms into ‘smog’, and respiratory diseases escalate within the population. Even migratory birds have disappeared from the scene.
A study by Lancet Commission stated that air pollution is the second biggest health hazard in India after child and maternal malnutrition, and is aggravating each year.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also reported that four out of the ten most polluted cities in the world are in India. The problem is complex and is a result of several contributing factors such as seasonal and agricultural cycles.
Recently, in a report by Boston based Health Effects Institute titled, ‘Special Report 21, Burden of Disease Attributable to Major Air Pollution Sources in India’, some striking revelations came to the forefront. It mentions that “In 2015, particulate matter (PM) air pollution from several major sources was responsible for approximately 1.1 million deaths, or 10.6% of the total number of deaths in India.”
It further states that “If no action is taken, population exposures to PM2.5 are likely to increase by more than 40% by 2050.”
This year with the PM 2.5 touching above 1000, air pollution is in a record-breaking mode in our country. National standards permit PM 2.5 to be 60. Internationally, 25 is the normal range for the same. Looking at the levels that we are experiencing, we are certainly in a state of a public health emergency.
Recently, during an international cricket Test match in Delhi, Sri Lankan cricketers experienced health issues as heavily polluted air engulfed the atmosphere of the city. The same polluted air was a concern during the Delhi Half Marathon, with the Indian Medical Association (IMA) terming air quality in the national capital as “poor” and “unsafe” and urging the Delhi High Court to postpone the Marathon as it was a situation of a public health emergency.
Situations like these should unite the citizens of our country to come up with solutions to tackle it. The government is trying to come up with pertinent solutions and is constantly digging up for the same. Recently, Bijayant “Jay” Panda, the Lok Sabha member from Odisha, commenced with an Active Citizenship Initiative, whereby he is inviting young Indians to work for and devise innovative, technical, and feasible solutions for saving our country from this grave problem. Policy abstracts are invited till January 28, 2018, and exciting prizes are up for grabs. The best proposal will be shared with the Ministry of Environment. They have released a starter kit for the same.
It is an excellent opportunity for people who intend to make changes at the policy level. I would urge all youngsters to apply for this “Clean Air Policy Challenge” and to give their best by contributing towards making our society pollution and disease free.