Amrita Anand, an environmental activist recently started a petition demanding a strong National Policy to control toxicity in the air and also the inclusion of it in the Disaster Management Act. She talks about how slowly this poisonous air wiping out Humans.
How serious is the Air issue in India?
In 2017 more people died from Air Pollution than diarrhea, TB, HIV/Malaria put together. That is around 1.2 million deaths in a year. Deaths due to air pollution are the new epidemic killing silently.
To understand the seriousness of the deteriorating quality of air in India, we need to first understand the good quality of air. This is determined by the Air Quality Index (AQI). The seriousness is such that we have to understand these measurements to raise awareness among family & friends.
The problem right now is that there are too many tiny dust/ash particles in the air. These are microscopic in size i.e. can be seen only through a microscope. Dust/ash particle size of diameter 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5). Due to its small size, it enters our lungs and some studies have found that it can even enter our brain. The presence of these tiny particles (PM 2.5) per cubic meter of air is the AQI reading. Air is good to breathe when AQI for PM 2.5 is below 50.
Air Pollution today is not just factories pumping out gases but construction, vehicular pollution, burning of garbage, crackers, burning of dry leaves/wood/crop burning. The situation has turned so bad that we are accustomed to living in AQI more than 50 most times of the year and this is the reality of most parts of India.
In Delhi & NCR post-Diwali the AQI crossed 2000 in some places which is forty times worse than livable condition. Most websites that show real-time air quality index don’t show beyond 999. Most international organization categorizes AQI 300-500 as hazardous to health with no category beyond 500. We have reached a point that in some towns and cities the lungs of smoker & non-smoker look the same.
When did you find the state of Air is an emergency situation?
Though, I have been reading about this in news reports over the last few years. It was during my recent visit to Delhi in October that the urgent situation hit me. I had taken an auto from Dwarka to South Delhi and my eyes started stinging soon after the 15mins. This really shook me. I have lived in Delhi till 2012, this was never the case.
While I was there Health emergency was declared by the Delhi government but you could not see any sense of emergency on the streets or in day-to-day life. Everything seems like usual. People were not realizing at all what actually they are inhaling. To understand the mindset I started talking and met several activists during the protests. Data shared thereby Vimlendu (one of the organizers) about deaths due to air pollution was the last nail. It left no doubt that this is an emergency situation with no one acting like one or no concrete emergency plan in place.
What solutions you have proposed to the government to tackle the situation in your petition?
While we need to speed up innovating and implementing measures to improve the quality of air, bring it to below 50 AQI no matter what. There is a dire need for process to safeguard people. Imagine there is a flood but no food packets are distributed. We will be so angry. Here the air we are breathing is killing us.
My petition puts down steps to safeguard lives. This can be ensured by two approaches, one sharing more information & resources with the public. Second, setting national standards for deadly air. Declaring an emergency and acting like one. The demand is to declare an emergency when AQI is more than 200.
Have these as part of a national policy or include in the existing disaster management act.
Air Quality is a national issue, how and what role an individual can play at least to reduce the pollution level?
We have to understand the problem locally to act individually to reduce the pollution level. Small actions of individuals can solve big issues. We need to take small steps like stop burning anything from dried leaves in our garden to woods, crackers or garbage.
Preferring public transport and switching to green cars would be another step towards reducing air pollution. Making ourselves and others aware about the issue and pressurizing governments to take corrective measures, we can slowly start changing the situation.
To fight against AQI more than 100 we should wear an air pollution mask that fights PM2.5 with N95 filter. If you can afford, distribute the same to family, friends, your vegetable/fruit vendor, auto/bus drivers.
This fight we must win to protect humans and our planet. Take Action by signing the petition http://chng.it/5FrmrhLv