10th NOVEMBER, 2019
|RAJYA SABHA TELEVISION|
THE PULSE: BATTLING AIR POLLUTION
Air pollution is an insidious killer. If you are among the 91% of the world’s population who breathes air the World Health Organization deems unsafe, then every time you inhale, microscopic particles are being drawn into your lungs. They get into the bloodstream, with a possibility of causing serious illness like cancers, strokes and heart disease, stunting children’s growth and development, and even reducing intelligence.
Delhi is once again grappling crisis of air pollution. The spike in the pollution has once again dipped capital’s air quality. Delhi government too is contemplating to bring in back the car rationing ‘Odd n Even’ rule if the need arises.
How severe is the air pollution in India?
- According to IQ Air quality index, in terms of PM 2.5 pollutant, there are 22 Indian cities out of 30 cities with Guru gram, Ghaziabad, Faridabad being ranked first, second, third respectively.
- According to global burden of diseases report, one child dies in every 3 minutes due to inhaling toxic air. Around 550 children die every day due to toxicity of polluted air.
Locational analysis of the air pollution
- Air pollution is a continuous phenomenon which keeps on adding to the atmosphere on the diurnal basis but severity of the pollutants is severe during winter season in land-locked cities.
- During winter, especially in the Indo-gangetic plain wind speed is very low at approx. 0.5m/sec which prohibits the intermixing of the pollutant gases.
- Mean mixing height is also very low in the night which creates smog in the area.
- Air pollution is less visible in coastal or mountainous area because the speed of the wind is high which prohibits the accumulation of the pollutants.
Environmental impacts of air pollution:
- Global warming: According to estimates, at the current rate of increase, the average global temperature up by 3°C to 8°C in the next 100 years. This will affect the climate of different regions, distribution of plants and animals, disturbance in agriculture and food production, melting of snow caps and resultant increase in sea levels. This will submerge parts of coastal cities of Calcutta, New York, London and other major cities.
- Formation of photochemical smog: When pollutants like hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides combine in the presence of sunlight, smog is formed. This is a mixture of gases and since it is formed by photochemical reactions, it is called the photochemical smog. The word ‘smog’ is derived from the two words-smoke and fog. It forms a yellowish brown haze especially during winter and hampers visibility. It also causes many respiratory disorders and allergies as it contains polluting gases.
- Formation of acid rain: Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with water in the atmosphere producing sulphuric acid and nitric acid. These acids come down along with the rain. This phenomenon is called acid rain. The pH of acid rain varies from 3-6. The composition of acid rain is sulphuric acid, nitric acid and weak carbonic acid. Its adverse effects on the environment include: causes respiratory and skin disorders, affects productivity of plants by damaging the leaves, enters the soil and affects the soil, pH and causes leaching, enters the ground and river waters which causes harm to the aquatic life, causes damage to marble and thus damages buildings and monuments like Taj Mahal.
- Aerosol formation: Aerosol is formed by the dispersion of solid or liquid matter in the atmosphere. If the aerosols form a thick layer in the troposphere, they affect the weather conditions by blocking the solar radiation. Aerosols are also deposited on the leaves and affect the photosynthesis. Aerosols disperse the organic metallic pollutants far and wide.
- Depletion of Ozone: The stratosphere of the atmosphere has ozone (O3). Ozone is known to absorb the Ultraviolet (UV) rays present in the sun’s radiation and protects us from the harmful effects of the UV rays. However, hydrocarbons such as the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroy the ozone molecules which deplete the ozone layer. Ozone holes have been detected in the atmosphere which permits the UV rays to reach the earth’s surface.
Challenges encountered during combating air pollution:
- There has not been any robust programme to deal with air pollution across country because the sources of the pollutants are different for different parts of the country.
- For example, in Delhi-NCR region, apart from the vehicular pollutants the major source of the pollution is the burning of the stubble in nearby area like Punjab, Haryana, and western UP etc.
- In India solid waste management programme has not achieved the desired success which is one of the major sources of the pollutants in metro-Politian areas.
- Inefficient administration, lack of political will along with the intent to play the vote-bank politics has made the job worse in dealing with the pollutants.
- Unplanned urbanization which led to haphazard growth of urban areas has led to proliferation of slums and poor public transport has increased the burden of personal vehicles on the road. Landfills used for waste management also releases pollutants in the air. The rapid urbanization of the recent years if left unmanaged will further exacerbate the problem.
Solution for the problem of pollution:
- Green cover: increasing green cover especially in the urban areas must be an indispensable part of urban planning. Other initiatives such as afforestation, greening of highways etc. must also pick up
- Push to renewables: addressing the problem of intermittence by adopting smart grid technology, incentives for decentralised power production via biogas, rooftop solar and push to EVs as has been done in Norway (exemptions on tax, toll, parking fee, environment tax on other vehicles, charging stations powered by renewable)
- Market for agricultural waste: the problem of crop burning can be resolved only through financial and technological support and incentives for farmers. Access to technologies like super seeder machines and development of market for crop stubble will push farmers to a cleaner method of waste disposal
- Better planning and coordination: a single body on the lines of EPCA as mandated by SC with clear targets and accountability mechanisms is necessary for effective environmental governance
- Forecasting systems for better response: China has shown the way in controlling the pollution by an effective pollution forecasting (2-3 days in advance) and monitoring systems. Its permanent odd-even policy during severe pollution levels, early warning systems, strict enforcement of GRAP like action plan has significantly brought down the pollution levels in Beijing
- Healthcare for pollution related diseases: pollution and its health burden are inevitable in the near future. Therefore it is necessary to equip public healthcare systems with adequate resources for facing this emerging challenge and shield poor from catastrophic healthcare expenditures
- Coherent environmental policies: since air pollution knows no boundaries, states and center have to harmonize their strategy to deal with it. Platforms like inter-state council apart from serving this objective can also help resolve pollution related disputes among states
Initiatives by governments to curb pollution
- Early implementation of BS-VI norm in 2020 to reduce emission from vehicles (as much as 75pc in case of NOx in diesel engine)
- Green India mission: part of NAPCC it aims at protecting, restoring and enhancing India’s diminishing forest cover which is crucial to reduce pollution
- Electric vehicle: the government is pushing for EVs as a cleaner alternative to vehicles run on fossil fuels with schemes like FAME to incentivizing purchase of EVs
- GRAP Delhi: Graded response action plan as mandated by SC for Delhi NCR to combat pollution aims to institutionalize coordination among all the concerned authorities to respond according to the severity of pollution
- Ban on Diesel vehicle and crackers: Courts in the recent time have cracked down upon Diesel vehicles and crackers to reduce pollutant emissions
- UJJWALA Yojana: the scheme providing subsidized LPG connections to BPL families will curb emissions from fuel wood used for cooking
- Odd even policy: the initiative by reducing the load of personal vehicle on road has helped in slight reduction in PM levels in Delhi
- Renewable energy plans: the aim of government to increase RE capacity by 175GW by 2022 and share of RE in total power generation to 40% by 2030 will be crucial in reducing pollution from power generation
- Smart city, AMRUT: the urban development scheme which seek to ensure planned urban growth including public transport and waste management will address emission from urban areas
- National Air Quality index that measures and monitors the levels of eight pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3, and Pb)
Technologies to reduce air pollution at the source are well established and should be used in all new industrial development. Retrofitting of existing industries and power plants is also worthwhile. Various emission standards have been set for automobiles (Bharat stages-2, 3 and 4).
On global scale, the UNCED, Earth Summit (1992) established principles for reducing GHG emission. The Kyoto Protocol (1997) aimed at achieving GHG emissions below 5% till 2012, followed by Copenhagen summit, 2009 & recent in 2011 at Durban to keep the process in run.
The principles and practices of sustainable development, coupled with local research, will help contain or eliminate health risks resulting from air pollution. International collaboration involving both governmental and nongovernmental organizations or can guide this highly interdisciplinary and intersectional area of pollution control.