Air pollution: Leading to a silent genocide

A new study highlights the need for urgency in setting-up decisive air quality targets by megacity authorities and advocates for joint regional efforts to control air pollution

As per a new study, the premature deaths due to PM2.5 in air were 14,800, 10,500, 7,300, 4,800 and 4,800 in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai respectively.

The study reports PM2.5-related long-term mortality for the year 2016 in 13 megacities of China, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan using an integrated exposure risk (IER) model.

PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter with diameter less than 2.5 mm. Fine particulate matter, PM2.5, has been associated with significant health side-effects, including cardiovascular and lung diseases, cancer and premature deaths. The PM2.5-related health impacts are notable in megacities across the globe, but Asian megacities have been suffering much more. The phenomenon of smog-hit cities became so common recently that the term ‘airpocalypse’ has become synonymous with polluted air.

It is estimated that in 2016, PM2.5-related mortality in Chinese cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing, Tianjin, Guangzhou and Shenzhen was 17.6, 18.2, 10.4, 9.8, 7.6 and 6.4 per thousand respectively.

Total mortality in Dhaka and Karachi was estimated to be 9.1 and 7.7 per thousand. Though China has taken initial steps with pollution control targets and strategy, there is an urgent need for government policy in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

This study highlights the need for urgency in setting up decisive air quality targets by megacity authorities and advocates for joint regional efforts to control air pollution. Premature mortality attributable to PM2.5 exposure and future policy roadmap for ‘airpocalypse’ affected Asian megacities. The study paper, written by Kamal Jyoti Maji, Mohit Arora and Anil Kumar Dikshit is available online in the journal, Process Safety and Environmental Protection.

Ahead of the critical months of November and December when air quality dips to severe levels in Delhi, the Environment Ministry has lined up a host of measures to tackle dust pollution, including three launching three pilot projects. Surprisingly, not a single pilot project targets the primary source of air pollution

While the study says that there is urgent need for government policy in India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) says that National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) is likely to be finalised by the end of this month and sent to states so that they can make plans to curb air pollution.

It must be remembered that NCAP is just a scheme and not a plan, when the scheme would be sent to States they would prepare a plan at their own will and also own pace. Surprising aspect is that NCAP would not be published in official Gazette, hence would not have any legal validity. As per MoEF&CC, there in no timeline for the States to prepare the action plans for air pollution control under NCAP. "First we have to assess which state has the capacity to reduce how much pollution. If we make a uniform target and one of the state does not have the resources, it will not serve the purpose", replied the official.

The whole episode of NCAP shows that nothing is certain about it. Although it is termed as an Action Plan, it is just a scheme. Despite months of preparation, it is not yet ready. There is no time frame for the states to prepare their own Action Plans and there is no legal binding as well. In fact, the draft NCAP as shown on MoEF&CC, is one of the worst drafted plan that a scientific organisation could prepare.

Ahead of the critical months of November and December when air quality dips to critical levels in Delhi, the Environment Ministry has lined up a host of measures to tackle dust pollution, including launching three pilot projects -- mounting filters on buses, using dust separation chemical sprays and installing equipment to suck in particulate matters. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute will run the pilot project on installing equipment to suck in particulate matters.

Surprisingly, not a single pilot project targets the primary source of air pollution. In the recent past, the whole of air pollution control business has become a big show off, where the MoEF&CC and Central Pollution Control Board make tall claims without any facts and figures and even the results. Even the Delhi Government is following the same path. This negligence is not only suicidal, it is a perfect genocide.

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