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Air Pollution, the road ahead. Will using alternate number cars, no firecrackers in Diwali help?.

Air pollution can be defined as an alteration of air quality that can be characterized by measurements of chemical, biological or physical pollutants in the air. Therefore, air pollution means an undesirable presence of impurities or the abnormal rise in the proportion of some constituents of the atmosphere. Air pollution is caused by the presence in the atmosphere of toxic substances, mainly produced by human activities, even though sometimes it can result from natural phenomena such as volcanic eruption, dust storms and wildfires, also deplete air quality. Anthropogenic air pollution sources are:

  1. Combustion of fossil fuels like coal and oil for electricity and road transport, producing air pollutants like nitrogen and sulphur dioxide.

  2. Emission form industries and factories releasing large amount of carbon monoxide

  3. Major contributors to air pollution include:

On-road vehicles

Industrial emissions

Road Dust

Biomass burning for cooking

Solid-waste burning

Crop burning

India one of the most polluted:

  • Air pollution levels (PM2.5, particulate matter with a size less than 2.5 micrometres) in most of the Indian cities are far beyond the WHO’s guidelines of 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3).

  • In 2016, 18 of 25 most polluted cities in the world were in India.

The centre’s recently launched National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) attempts to achieve this by calling for a collaborative and participatory approach to focus on all sources of pollution, with a time-bound national-level strategy.

National Clean Air Programme:

NCAP sets a target of 20-30% reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 by 2024, with 2017 as the base year for comparison. It seeks to combat air pollution in a comprehensive and time-bound manner.

The programme’s objective is to put in place mitigation actions for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution. To achieve this, NCAP requires detailed knowledge of data, research findings and time-to-time policy impact analysis.

Disease Burden due to Air pollution:

  • While India had 18% of the global population, it had 26% of global DALYs attributable to air pollution in 2017.

  • 8% of the total disease burden in India and 11% of premature deaths are attributed to air pollution.

  • An estimated 1.24 million deaths in India in 2017 occurred due to air pollution.

  • Out of 1.24 million, 0.67 million deaths occurred due to ambient particulate matter pollution and 0.48 million deaths due to household air pollution.

  • About 38% of the disease burden due to air pollution in India is from cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

  • Air pollution in India is the leading cause for disease burden from ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, which are commonly associated with smoking.

The Supreme Court has legalized the bursting of only green, silent versions of the anar (flowerpot) and phuljari (sparklers) crackers in Delhi-NCR. These, according to the Delhi government claims, bring down air pollution by as much as 30 per cent. The police have also promised strict legal action against anyone found selling crackers other than the two mentioned above.

The Delhi government has also announced a seven-point action plan to combat pollution during Diwali and a five-point action plan to combat winter pollution. Some of the measures proposed include the implementation of the odd-even scheme from 4-15 November, procuring N 95 masks and distributing it among people and organizing a community Diwali laser show to detract people from bursting crackers. There are also plans to increase the frequency and area of sprinkling water on roads to reduce dust pollution, identifying pollution hotspots in the city and taking appropriate action, as well as having two designated ‘environment marshals’ in each ward of the city to ensure that no leaf-burning activity takes place. The Delhi police, for its part, have not issued a single license to any ordinary or gunpowder firecracker seller, if reports are to be believed. While administrative efforts have mostly been geared towards promoting the use of green crackers and carrying out punitive action on offenders, only time will tell if these measures will bear the desired fruits.

-Sangeeta Paul

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