This post is part of the Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.
I still remember visiting Barh, my grandma’s village in Bihar during summer vacations. As a child, I used to play games, pluck fruits and vegetables with my cousins and enjoy playing on the farm. Those times, I barely thought about things like climate change or emissions or their impact on our health.
I am now a mechanical engineer and when I visit my village now, I can’t help but notice the many things that have changed. Like, how my uncle burns crop residues in an open field or the incessant coughing and itching in grandma’s eyes while she cooks food on a traditional chulha.
I live in town now, and here too, I have observed how the furniture at my home gets frequently covered with dust despite daily cleaning. These may sound like little problems, but they aren’t. They are all related to air pollution – an area I presently work in as a researcher. They are also some of the problems I’m deeply interested in solving.
I realized that I’m interested in using research to solve these problems while pursuing my master’s degree. At IIT Patna, I designed and developed a gasifier that can generate hot water and energy using agricultural wastes – an innovation that is currently helping many farmers in North India to utilize their farm waste for generating energy in a clean manner. For this, I have a patent in my name too.
Post this, I joined IIT Bombay as a PhD research scholar where I began working on the issue of access to clean energy for women like my grandma and approximately 600 million people who still lack it. Over the world, this number amounts to 2.6 billion
In these last five years, I have seen first hand just how big a menace air pollution is becoming in India by the day. Increasing concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5 has led to Air Quality worsening in different Indian cities. Delhi tends to hog the most limelight, but the Central Pollution Control Board has announced a list of 124 cities, where this is an issue, and this includes most of the metropolitan cities where most of us live. According to a study, 1.1 million deaths have happened within the country due to bad air quality and this number is increasing every year. The pandemic has only worsened things forcing us inside homes.
Are we really safe indoors though? As per the United States Environmental Protection Agency USEPA),. indoor air pollution is 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air quality. If you ask me, air pollution is a dangerous slow poison, and it’s all around us.
The mainstream conversation around air pollution, especially in the context of big cities, tends to blame farmers for bad air quality, but the truth is pollution is a multi-faceted problem, with multiple sources. I feel we require more awareness around these issues. On my part, I am working towards figuring out the problem of eradicating crop waste burning by making it a sustainable source of income for farmers. It is my hope that my solutions will not just provide farmers an extra financial cushion for their livelihood, but also help in improving the air quality around us.