With every breath

New Delhi- the world´s most polluted city.

New Delhi- the world´s most polluted city.

News about the pollution problem in India is taking up more and more room in the news reports. A  World Health Organisation study of 1,600 urban centers found India has 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities.  New Delhi is renowned of having the dirtiest air of any city in the world. The city’s air is more than twice as polluted as Beijing’s, according to WHO.  Beijing ranking at 79th place. The New Delhi toxic brew consists of diesel exhaust, construction dust, industrial emissions and the widespread burning of bio fuels for cooking.

The magnitude of the problem in the world´s second most populous nation is surfacing. Delhi is quietly suffering from a dire pediatric respiratory crisis, with a recent study showing that nearly half of the city’s 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air.

Foreigners have lived in Delhi for centuries but the air and the new research into its effects have become so frightening that many feel it is unethical to willingly raise children there. Similar discussions are doubtless underway in Beijing and other Asian megacities too, but it is in Delhi — among the most populous, polluted,unsanitary and bacterially unsafe cities on earth — where a change is most urgently needed.

W. James Gauderman, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, co-author of a landmark 2004 study showing that children raised in parts of Los Angeles — where pollution levels are a fraction of Delhi’s — face significant and probably permanent losses of lung function. Even children who move to less polluted places during childhood never seem to entirely recover from earlier high pollution exposures, another study found

Despite the growing alarm from the urban middle class over filthy air, it is far from clear that India is willing and able to take action against it.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s priority is promoting economic growth  with focus on manufacturing and new coal-fired power plants to provide uninterrupted electricity supply across the country. The pollution can work against the effort put in to improve education, nutrition and workforce skills among the Indian people.

India does have air quality standards but the law is silent on who is accountable when pollution levels exceed set limits. The worst contributors to the pollution are indisputably the use of dirty diesel and the vehicle emission standards lagging far behind. The number of vehicles on the roads have increased rapidly the last decade. Sales of trucks, the worst polluters, grew with 16.2 per cent.

More affluent Indians turn on their polluting diesel generators every time the power supply fails. Coal-fired power plants,  sometimes located in the heart of cities such as Delhi,  will be an increasing source of air pollution as India boosts its power generating-capacity to increase economic growth. On top of that, Delhi is engulfed each winter by a haze generated by the burning of an estimated 500m tons of post-harvest stubble in the fields in India’s granary states of Punjab and Haryan.

Urban India’s construction boom is another contributor. Dust management rules are rarely enforced and emission from informal industries like brick kilns are unregulated. About half of India’s population still cook their food and keep warm in winter by burning wood, coal, and even cow dung — all of which release high levels of particulates.

India’s Supreme Court has led past efforts to clean up India’s air, especially in the 1990s, when it mandated a series of bold steps, including banning leaded petrol, first in the capital, and later nationally. In 1994, it ordered all the capital’s public transport — including buses, taxi and auto rickshaws — to be converted to run on compressed natural gas, instead of diesel. Despite fierce resistance from the transport lobby, the conversion went ahead, sharply reducing pollution levels. Dirty industries were forced out of the city centre, older vehicles ordered off the roads, and the country’s first fuel and emission standards created.

The fight against pollution in India is an uphill battle. If you take action against air pollution , literally any action you can take will go against somebody’s vested interests, somewhere.

Read Gardiner Harris´,  a Washington correspondent for The New York Times, article about their experience in India;  Holding your breath in India.

and Amy Kazmin´s article in Financial Times http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/7602606a-8492-11e5-8095-ed1a37d1e096.html#axzz3rzIRtVbh


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