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Air Pollution: A Deep Dive Into The ‘Invisible Killer’ Of India

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Source: Dark Labs on Unsplash

Air is a free natural asset on earth that sustains all forms of life. It is naturally clean and plays a major role in the water cycle, cross-pollination, monsoon, normalizing temperature and electricity generation, etc. Humans need oxygen for respiration, and thus air is the fundamental building block without which life would not exist. Due to an unimaginable rise in the levels of air pollution since the era of industrialization, the air is rendered unsafe for breathing.

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Source: Indian Express

Air pollution doesn’t have any borders. The pollution generated or prevented in one place can affect the quality of air thousands of miles away even across continents and oceans.  It is the invisible killer of current times and is a major global health risk with substantial impact in low- and middle-income countries. India, the world’s fastest-growing major economy has 22 of the top 30 most polluted cities in the world as per the WHO global air pollution database. Soot, dust, particulate matter, and nitrous oxides are becoming a huge threat to people around the world. A whopping 80% of urban dwellers in India today must endure outdoor pollution that exceeds health standards.

Air pollution is very expensive and divisive. The socio-economic split within the world’s most polluted cities is growing continuously, and smog is playing a catastrophic role. People who can afford to are surviving in the urban centres by opting for air filtration systems and the best-quality medical care. Companies are stepping in to monetize with the promise of selling clean air at a price. Air pollution today is the world’s 4th leading contributing cause of premature deaths, killing more than 7 million people yearly. The global economy too silently suffers a projected 200 billion dollars annually in medical costs and lost labour.

India’s air pollution is so dreadful. One out of every seven deaths in India is credited to air pollution, and it has lowered the average life expectancy by 1.7 years. The quality of air in India is so poor that over 1.2 million deaths have occurred last year which are attributed to air pollution. According to a survey done by Lancet Planetary Health, at least 12.5% of deaths in 2017 linked to high rates of respiratory infections, heart disease, strokes, and lung cancer which are a consequence of the severe air pollution. Bangalore, the asthma capital of India, has witnessed severe air pollution, and around 30% of children have Asthma due to their exposure.

Source: Bloomberg

Pollution in any form, be it air or water, poses an environmental risk to the health of the exposed population. Upon prolonged exposure, individuals suffer from the burden of physical, emotional, and socio-economic challenges. We don’t have to be a scientist to realize how bad is the air out here. Everything in cities is covered in a film of toxic dust including trees, bushes, etc. Poor air quality is acknowledged to be a global public health epidemic, with levels of airborne particulate matter in cities reaching 20 to 30 times above the World Health Organization’s safety threshold on many days. India tends to disregard an issue until it becomes momentous, and unfortunately, air pollution runs that risk.

What can an average person do when the air surrounding him is no longer safe to breathe? It’s just unjustified in telling people not to go outside or don’t breathe.

Air pollution is also a major contributor to the issue of global warming. Poor air quality can reduce sunlight disrupting rainfall patterns, depressing crop yields, and subsiding the solar energy output. Air pollution has already broken dangerous levels and is the biggest environmental cause of death in the world today. The paucity of the situation calls for cleaning up of the atmosphere which is both urgent and tremendously difficult.

Air Pollution’s Effect On Human Health

Several health problems are linked to air pollution. Today, the number of people with asthma in India is more than anywhere else in the world. Air pollution is the reason behind chronic pulmonary diseases, lung cancer, and several heart disorders. It is also the third biggest risk factor for disease and disability in India, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Air pollution also ranks above high blood pressure and tobacco use. India has already paid a huge price and is further racking up its health-care costs and productivity losses affecting up-to 8.5% of the gross domestic product, as per the World Bank.

Cancer cases are also increasing at an alarming rate in India. As per an estimate by the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP), by 2026 there will be more than 1.4 million people affected by cancer in India resulting due to the greater exposure to environmental carcinogens. The below image shows the PM2.5 concentration on Jan 22, 2019. The majority of portions of the country are in a very unhealthy or unhealthy state.

Source: Berkeley Earth

PM2.5 – “The Silent Killer”

PM2.5 is so small which is around 1/300th the size of human hair. Particles in this category are so tiny that they can only be sensed with an electron microscope. They can come from various sources including power plants, automobiles, airplanes, wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and natural events like volcanic eruptions and dust storms. Some of them are emitted directly into the air, while others form when toxic gases and particles interact in the atmosphere.

Some of the other sources of PM2.5 are :

  •    Organic/black carbon as primary emissions are a part of PM2.5
  • Sulfur dioxide transforming to sulfate aerosols are a part of PM2.5
  •  Nitrous oxides, carbon monoxides combine and react to chemically transform to several organic aerosols are also a part of PM2.5

Owing to their tiny appearance, these fine particles tend to stay longer in the air than other heavier particles. Hence, this increases the chances of humans and animals inhaling them. These tiny particles of PM2.5 can penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream at high concentrations. Chronic exposure leads to the risk of developing multiple cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. It has both short and long and term health impact affecting the body in nearly every area. According to the WHO exposure to PM2.5 in concentrations of under 10 µg/m3 annual mean and 25 µg/m3 24-hour mean is safe.

How Are Children Being Affected

Many days throughout the year we are enveloped in a toxic cloud of worst pollutants ever witnessed in the past.  Children spend most of the time outside their homes, and they have a greater risk of exposure to this toxic air. The fine pollutant particles affect how a child grows and has consequences late in adult life. As the exposure levels are higher for children, the pollutants have a worse impact on their bodies, which are generally developing at a fast pace.

PM2.5 can reach every organ through the bloodstream in children’s bodies and disrupt the normal functioning as well as damage brain cells, and increase the risk of developing heart, brain, respiratory disorders. Also, studies tell that exposure to these particles has been linked to preterm birth and low birth weight, impaired cognitive development, and spontaneous abortion. Data tells us that 13% of deaths of hospitalized children in India are caused by an acute respiratory infection.

So, by targeting PM2.5 the pollutant which is of grave concern in India, we are invariably targeting all the other pollutants as well. Any control mechanism intended to restrict direct PM2.5 emissions will also reduce other pollutants in our atmosphere.

Let’s have a look at some of the prominent causes of air pollution in India:

Vehicle Emissions

Automobiles have garnered longstanding focus for their contributions to air pollution and health effects. They are known to be one of the biggest sources of emissions contributing to air pollution. Pollution emitting from vehicles including heavy trucks, jeeps, cars, buses trains, airplanes, etc. causes an immense amount of damage to the atmosphere.

The entire debate about emissions is mainly focused on automobiles based on diesel engines. Though they consume relatively little energy and are also fuel-efficient, they emit more quantities of pollutants. Diesel engines contribute to air pollution in two key ways – emission of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx). These exhaust fumes are known to be linked to causing adverse health effects including exacerbation of asthma symptoms and lung cancer.

The diesel gate scandal was an eye-opener to the entire world and shook the car manufacturer Volkswagen as well as various governments. This has made agencies across the world like EPA, ARAI, EEA, etc. to come up with stringent measures to keep a check on the exhaust emissions. The scandal has opened various others too after investigations and resulted in a large number of recalls and rectifications by OEM’s across the world.

Source: European Environment Agency

Governments across the world had revised emission norms EURO VI and BS-IV, BS-VI, etc. and stringent deadlines have been given to OEM’s to meet the same. Real driving emission measurements under real operating conditions have been implemented in Europe to reduce the discrepancy between laboratory and real driving conditions. India has taken similar measures to ensure the newer cars meet the stringent limits but did not come up with effective measures to remove the older polluting cars/trucks from plying on roads in various parts of the country excluding Delhi.

According to an estimate by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), there were around 8.7 million obsolete vehicles, also called end-of-life vehicles (ELVs), in 2015. These older automobiles despite being more polluting (almost to the level of six times) and less fuel-efficient than their new counterparts are still being used for transportation owing to lack of restrictions. 

Agricultural Activities

In India, farmers burn the crop stubble, roots, and stem to help prepare the field for seeding the next season. PM is mainly released through the burning of this agricultural waste, and these particles are then channelled by air currents from the rural farms to various north Indian states as well the capital, New Delhi. This age-old practice of burning crop stubble after the autumn harvest and before the winter sowing adds to the toxic fumes contaminating the atmosphere and increasing the risk to three-fold for those living in these districts. Efforts to persuade the Indian farmers to switch to alternative methods of removing stubble have not yet shown a success.

Source: The Economic Times

This exposure and impact of air pollution vary in different states. Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Haryana have shown a very high level of PM2.5, with Delhi being the most impacted as the smoke from crop burning in the states of Punjab and Haryana blew over much of north India. Air pollution due to crop residue burning causes an estimated economic loss of USD 30 billion annually. The negative health effects of crop burning include a drop in the productivity of residents and may further lead to long-term adverse impacts on the economy.

Wildfires

The forest cover of India is around 21.23% of the geographic area, i.e., 7 lakh sq km.  At least 60% of the districts in India are affected by forest fires annually. These wildfires cause severe air pollution by releasing particulate matter into the air. These fine particles are driving the second round of pollution events in many parts of the world.  Although wildfires are episodic, they are increasing in their intensity. These fires can have a substantial impact on local air quality, human health, and visibility.

These days wildfires are fuelled by climate change eroding the air quality and causing sudden spikes in fine particles. Climate change is not only increasing the likelihood of wildfires but also erasing decades of air pollution gains in those regions

Power Plants / Thermal Power Stations

Coal has been a reliable source of energy for decades, but it comes with a great cost as it is incredibly dirty. Power plants are working on coal for generating energy release several profoundly harmful pollutants that harm the public health and cause serious air pollution and global warming.

India is the world’s second-largest consumer of coal after China and the Indian government’s push for consistent and universally available electricity as their key priority policy has led to majorly dependent on coal-fired plants which are condemned by many environmental organizations. Coal is the only fossil fuel that is abundant in India with extensive deposits situated in the northeast and other several other states of the country. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global coal demand is expected to maintain stable growth driven by “strong” fuel burning in China and India.

Today, coal generates around three-quarters of the country’s electricity. Coal-mining and converting it into power has a significant contribution towards India’s industrial production. The state-owned Coal India which is also the world’s largest employs around 3.2 lakh people. Indian railways, which employ over 1.3 million people also depend on coal as it accounts for half the freight carried on its network. Coal remains deep-rooted under the fingernails of the nation due to a combination of political and economic factors.

Source: Financial Times

Coal as a key fuel for power plant operation results in emissions that contain major greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, and other nitrous oxides.  These emissions are also a key contributor to rising PM levels in India. These coal-based plants also emit sulfur dioxide (SO2), which later turns into small, acidic particulates that are linked with asthma, bronchitis, smog, and acid rain. India has beaten China’s SO2 emission levels and now is known for its dubious distinction of being the world’s largest SO2 emitter, a chief toxic pollutant that seriously impacts human health.

Today, many coal power plants across the country are still violating the emission norms, and breathing such polluted air has been linked to smoking 50 cigarettes in one day. Unfortunately, Coal is likely to rule the energy mix for decades to come as well unless we switch to renewable sources and tap their potential.

Burning Of Waste

It’s an indisputable fact that the world today is drowning in garbage and burning of this garbage waste in a controlled or uncontrolled atmosphere is an underappreciated source of air pollutants. According to an estimate, around 40% of the world’s garbage is burned in open piles aggravating the already sad state of affairs of air pollution in most countries.

Open waste burning is a prevalent practice encouraged by a lack of systematic waste collection in many parts of India. It can occur at major landfill sites, small or remote dumpsites as well as individual households making it a multifaceted problem to address. Waste is purposely burnt to free up space at dumpsites and facilitate hunting of non-combustible materials such as metals for profit. Modern methods such as Incineration, pyrolysis, and plasma arc though appear to be appealing still result in serious climate, toxic pollution and these approaches seem to be a distraction from the real solution. It’s a disturbing fact that despite the lethal toxic pollution it causes, unfettered trash burning is the new normal in India.

Municipal solid waste is the largest source of waste in India and often includes several hazardous and non-hazardous wastes. Large, noticeable clouds of black smoke accompany these landfill sites, and the dumpsite fires burn very slowly, lasting over extensive periods. This results in letting the quantity and concentration of pollutants to build up.

The burning of plastic and other wastes lets dangerous materials such as heavy metals, organic pollutants, di-oxides, ash waste, and other toxins into the air. It is also a significant source of hazardous carcinogens like dioxins. Burning garbage also turns out to be a substantial source of greenhouse gases adding to the climate change woes. Plastic waste has dramatically increased in India due to a combination of multiple factors such as availability at a throwaway price, rapid urbanization, increased consumption.

Though waste conversion to energy sounds thrilling, it is still combustion, and it can’t solve the problems of the 21st century.  Unless we leave our age-old approach to garbage, we will not be able to breathe fresh air in our growing cities. One has to realize that, burning garbage is just forming a landfill in the sky.

Industrial Chimney Wastes

Many industries in India flout environmental regulations, laws, and release toxic effluents into the atmosphere. Toxic chemicals consumed by the industries in manufacturing/processing are the biggest contributors to pollution as the emissions resulting from their usage are hazardous to human health and the environment. Several industrial facilities across India generate huge toxic chemicals as production-related wastes and pollutants. Sterlite copper smelter in Tamil Nadu caught the limelight last year for causing serious health issues to the residents after an SO2 gas leak. The plant was accused of polluting the local environment through the release of toxic gases and emissions that are not as per the standards laid down by the pollution control board.

Source: Earth Eclipse

India has also seen one more infamous case of the Mathura-based petroleum refinery which a major cause behind the continuous deterioration of the marble surface of the Taj Mahal. Successive Indian governments have failed to keep a check on the pollution and protect the monument. The Supreme court of India had to interfere after several writ petitions and warn the government that it would shut the monument if it is not restored. The construction industry also contributes to the problem of air pollution in several parts of India. Cement factories release plenty of dust, which is a health hazard. Also, stone crushers add up to the menace. Fertilizer industries emit acid vapors directly into the air and cause serious trouble to the local atmosphere.

With the increased number of factories, manufacturing processes in both large- and small-scale levels, gaseous emissions are on the rise owing to poor regulations. Thus, industrial pollution is also one of the key causes of air pollution in India. Emissions particularly contain gaseous contaminants like SO2, CO2, methane, and oxides of nitrogen, etc. Such gases, when are frequently released, and present in the atmosphere cause severe illnesses and environmental hazards. Acid rains and smog are some of the other implications of their presence in the atmosphere.

 Indoor Cooking

Many of India’s poorest people still rely on traditional solid biofuels like wood, animal dung, charcoal, crop wastes, etc burned in inefficient ways for cooking. These practices followed in homes emit large quantities of particulate matter and pollutants into the household environment and increase the chances of several respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular diseases upon exposure. Dependence on wood as a fuel also leads to deforestation and such unsustainable harvesting practices can further result in degradation and loss of habitat.

Total suspended particulate matter (TSP), high level of toxic pollutants, smoke density, and oil vapors increase the risk of respiratory infection, lung cancer, cataracts, cardiovascular and other diseases. The pollution caused by burning wood, biomass, and other tree-based products at homes is one of the primary causes of the infamous Asian brown cloud which is known to affect the monsoon in India.

Government schemes like PM Ujjwala Yojana which provides free cooking gas connections to low-income families are one success story but still a long way to go.

Crackers

Bursting of crackers during the festival of Diwali celebrated across India results in a huge spike in the pollutants which stay in the atmosphere for a prolonged period causing severe trouble to the people. This has even prompted the Supreme Court of India to restrict the bursting of firecrackers to just two hours on Diwali night though was not followed effectively.

PM2.5 levels remain higher even after the festival and several toxic gases show a substantial rise in their levels. As the winter season’s atmosphere is stable during the time of the festival, the dispersal of pollutants is difficult. Crackers have also become a serious headache to the national capital Delhi’s pollution woes. Last year, India’s supreme court had banned the sale of regular firecrackers in the NCR and mandated two hours for bursting “green crackers” only. According to an estimate by the Ministry of Earth sciences, even if the national capital halved the emissions from firecrackers, the atmosphere would remain severely unhealthy for at least two days after Diwali.

Though it can be argued that a ban on the bursting of crackers will diminish the Diwali festive fervor, it is a positive intervention that can effectively reduce pollutant level rise in the atmosphere. However, one of the challenges to this decision is that the cracker industry employs several people and a straight ban on the usage would jeopardize their lives. The Supreme Court of India also opined that it is not in favor of a complete ban on crackers and wanted regulations over the usage.

These are a few of the key contributors to the problem of air pollution in India. When we talk of actions against these well-known contributors, there is a strong reluctance to take measures against the polluters as a crackdown would inevitably upset several industries and sectors which could further hit economic growth ahead of elections. The government is aware that, the corrective measures needed are unpleasant and might make them lose votes rather than increasing popularity.  Also, it is regrettable to find that the interest in the topic of air pollution from the media or public seems to peak only when the pollution breaches the emergency range.

The scale of pollution is so high in India today that we should take strong actions quickly and must somersault to a position without any regrets. Today, despite being aware of the ill effects of pollution, there is very little management and regulation to restrain activities that can contribute to high levels of pollution. Indians can substantially breathe better air soon if we could create a strong link between the transition required and the political economy behind it.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the world is way off track for restrictive global warming to 1.5°C. Countries need to transform and change the course to phase out coal and increase dependency on renewables to provide a better life for people.

The common culprit across India is the burning of fossil fuels which is further worsened by the cutting down of our forests. This calls for a fair transition out of fossil fuels to alleviate the health and climate crisis. 

Following is a brief set of actions that can bring a change in the air we breathe if implemented and followed sincerely.

  •     Phase-out Coal-based energy

If we continue to allow operating coal-fired power plants to continue even at a greater efficiency will increase air pollution defeating the idea of address this issue. To eliminate air pollution, we need to stop depending on this dirty energy and India should put strong policies in place to truly support affordable, clean energy. The scale of the projected rise in power usage indicates that it is going to occupy a king’s share in the power mix. India needs to make major advances in the production of renewable electricity. With solar plants inactive during the night and wind turbines quiet on still days, coal plants still have some life.

A positive development in this regard is some of the state-owned thermal power producers canceling plans for large coal projects, as well as large private-sector coal power producers looking at renewable energy for new projects.  International Solar Alliance (ISA) is a great forum towards ensuring climate justice and has the potential to replace OPEC as a global energy supplier. India has taken the right steps forward, and future governments need to increase focus on non-fossil fuel-based resources and route the investments accordingly.

Source: Financial Times
  •     Emission norms for coal-fired power plants 

Thermal power plants are air pollution hotspots in India and new pollution standards to be implemented on an urgent basis as it will cut down up to 40% of the particulate matter emissions and both nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide as a pollutant from power generation sector.  Stricter emission standards for thermal power plants is yet to be implemented, and we all should vehemently oppose any extension of the deadline.

A partial ban on the use of pet coke and furnace oil – Nationwide ban on the import and use of pet coke and furnace oil will significantly show impact as the gases released from these fuels are one of the dirtiest in the world.

  • Handling/burning of waste

The government should support the creation of an integrated solid waste management system. Steps should be taken to improve waste collection, reduce trash occurrence, bringing informal waste pickers into the formal sector, and prevent dumpsites from open burning. Strict controls should be kept on open waste burning and promote garbage segregation at source, composting of biomass.

Education to the public on the hazards of open garbage burning should be extensively done. The transition towards zero waste is the ultimate true north scenario which could effectively eliminate a major source of air pollution.  Incinerators, landfills, etc are not a solution to this problem, and we need to divert our investments in the right sector to support sustainable practices. By doing all these, our society can enjoy fruits in three ways – environmental, social, and economic.

  • Indoor cooking

The government should come up with few policy measures to address this problem namely by the large-scale distribution of subsidized LPG (PM Ujjwala Yojana), use of traditional stoves with an incentive to switch to alternative fuel thereby preventing the use of traditional biomass fuels, technological upgrade of the conventional stoves to accommodate behavioral patterns of Indians living in poverty.

With widespread awareness through campaigns and spreading information about the health hazards, the environmental impact of traditional stoves is essential.

  • Data monitoring

Citizens should have access to air quality information throughout the year to give a true picture of the ground reality. To accomplish this, we need real-time data monitoring through multiple stations. It is estimated that we require around 4,000 continuous monitoring stations to represent the air pollution problem in both urban and rural areas. Data available today is from around 600 odd manual stations and 100 odd continuous monitoring stations.

Though the odd-even vehicle scheme implemented in New Delhi did not show any significant improvement, it is certainly a step towards reducing air pollution from automobiles. It is high time we realize that fuel needs to be targeted and not the number plate. Shifting transit models as well as economic trends will alter the overall traffic-related pollution in the upcoming years. The government should also promote alternate modes of transportation by developing cycling tracks.

  • Emission Norms

The Indian government has brought forward the date for stricter emission norms to 2020 to ensure that new vehicles sold will be cleaner. However, on the other side, the government also must take stricter actions to remove the old polluting vehicles from the roads through a sustainable scrapping policy and banning old vehicles from plying on roads. The government should also restrict the use of diesel generators thereby ensuring full power from clean sources. India should continue to use biofuel and bio-energy for the transport system until large-scale electric mobility is implemented.

Indian railways should phase out using diesel engines and achieve 100% electrification of tracks. A positive development in this regard is the conversion of a diesel locomotive into an electric one indigenously by railways. Emission norms for off-highway applications, tractors (TREM), and others need to be relooked as they are always at a lower level when compared to on-road vehicles. These applications are also a significant source of pollutants, and many people use age-old polluting vehicles for their livelihood.

  • Crop burning

Crop burning is extensively practiced in India. Farmers need to adopt new crop harvesting technologies to overcome this age-old demon and prevent particulate matter and other harmful particles from spreading. Yield maximization is possible by planting the next crop right after the previous crop has been harvested. Also, the choice of crop combination can be recommended to farmers to stop them from following this practice.

The government needs to play a major role in this by supporting farmers and also can collect the leftover stubble for large scale manure plants. The entire ecosystem is to be built for the same, and the supply chain has to be established.

  • IoT Devices

The Internet of Things can also help us in tackling this issue. These sensors can be attached to streetlights, telephone poles, mobile base stations, public benches, etc to measure and report air quality with great precision. The data generated can provide alerts and warnings to citizens.

They could bring a new thrust to tackling air pollution. Given the scale of the issue and the potential of the technology, IoT based devices can soon become the norm.

  • Ban on firecrackers

Though this decision has social and economic implications, firecrackers have to be banned to prevent people from suffocating in toxic air. The government should think of alternative employment opportunities for the people in this sector to ensure minimum loss to the households.

Lessons From China

China’s advancement in electric mobility provides lessons for India. China followed a strategy that promoted electric mobility by coordinating with various stakeholders and develop standards for procurement, battery technology, etc.

China was able to beat the world automotive industry by giving incentives to form alliances. Stakeholders such as energy utilities, battery manufacturers, and suppliers have worked together to make this a reality. Primarily driven by China’s government, this program prospered as it addressed the electric mobility sector holistically, from manufacturing to end consumer. It is the uncontested global e-bus leader with close to 4 lakh electric buses running on Chinese streets, in a harmonized effort by the Chinese government.

China’s ‘Blue Sky’ policy is an action plan for reducing air pollution across large cities through bans on direct coal use and small boilers in residential heating and industrial sectors. Along with this, cement, steel, and power producers are targeted.

India Should Aim To Create 2 and 3-Wheeler Electric Revolution

Thus, Indian needs to have an economic strategy to protect and nurture new electric vehicle technology. Through subsidies and local partnerships, businesses/solution providers can optimize and improve the business models. Few states have already implemented steps to adopt electric buses, but we are far behind our neighbour China.

India is the world’s largest market for two-wheelers with annual sales exceeding 19 million in FY 2018, which is six times that of car sales. The majority of sales are dominated by petrol, but sales of electric scooters are growing fast. This segment particularly doesn’t face major roadblocks when it comes to electrification. As scooters are lighter, less powerful batteries can be developed that are cheaper. Scooters and three-wheeler can be charged quickly and easily using plug points in homes. On the flip side, the challenge that these electric vehicles face is that they are not as powerful as petrol-based vehicles. Also, owing to a poor supply chain, OEM’s import components.

Through incentives to OEM’s and battery manufacturers and by working closely with the industry, India can create an electric revolution led by two and three-wheelers. Coherent policy and a roadmap to achieve complete electrification is the need of the hour to turn the ambition into reality,

Given our awareness about the effects of air pollution, it’s fair to say that air pollution is a violation of our rights. The only long-term solution is clean energy, and every effort should be in that direction. Though the share of renewable energy in installed capacity has doubled, it has purely replaced hydel based power plants. India cannot outpace China in the race of pollution control without demonstrating resolve and leadership in attacking this silent killer.

A decisive win for air quality improvement is possible only through coordinated and multi-pollutant emission reductions. With every passing day of non-compliance to the norms, millions of Indians are at risk. Government ministry needs to come up with strict, realizable deadlines and a concrete roadmap.

Each one of us is aware of how to reduce air pollution. It can be as simple as avoiding personal vehicles for the commute, sustainable waste management, etc, and to the other extreme of generating energy production based out of non-fossil fuel-based. Achieving these goals necessitates overcoming complex economic, social, and political hurdles. It’s time we demand actions to ensure access to clean air everywhere.

References

The Telegraph: Private vehicles are a major contributor to Delhi’s pollution

BBC: Air pollution: Madrid bans old cars to reduce emissions

Down To Earth: Rewind 2018: Development and fire eat up India’s forest cover

Green Peace: As India struggles to breathe, over 300 coal power plants are violating air pollution laws and MoEFCC does nothing.

Union of Concerned Scientists USA: Coal and Air Pollution

Carbon Brief: IEA: China and India to fuel further rise in global coal demand in 2018

Climate & Clean Air Coalition: Open waste burning prevention

World Health Organization (WHO): Household Air Pollution 

The Economic Times: Air pollution: Firecracker ban puts lid on toxic brew, a step in right direction

#UnitedNations #SDG7 #AffordableandCleanEnergy #SDG13 #ClimateAction #SocialImpact #SocialInnovation #Change #Development #World #India #BeaBridgeforChange #BBC

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Be a Bridge for Change — BBC and is published from a syndicated feed.)

Author: Mr. Hareesh Kodi, Supply Chain MT, Marico Ltd | MBA SJMSOM, IIT Bombay | Bosch Ltd | NITK Surathkal

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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