Thursday, March 24, 2016

Delhi Air Pollution: Ahmedabad should wake up and act, now!

Imagine a city where you wake up and look at the official alert on the air quality and then decide about your day – whether to go out or not. It might be safe to go out on the ‘saffron alert’ days but with a face mask on. Wearing a face mask does not bother you any more. On the ‘red alert’ days, people are advised to stay indoors. Only on the ‘green’ days, you may freely go out without a face mask. But ‘green days’ are decreasing every year. The air purifier installed in your house is working relentlessly and increasing your energy bill with the same rigor, just like those blooming air conditioners. Of course, It is a luxury to have air purifiers at homes and offices and it is even greater luxury to have a choice about going out or not. Since not everyone in the city have these luxuries, majority of the population in this city suffers by breathing the worst air possible for human beings. No, this is not a description of the distant, dystopian future from a sci-fi novel. This is happening right now in an Asian city, Beijing. 
Delhi’s air pollution problem is not less severe than the one in Beijing. Triggered by toxins and high levels of particulate matter, Delhi's air has crossed all limits of safety, breaching even WHO (World Health Organization) standards. The air pollution in Delhi has started a national debate about the quality of air we breath in our cities. While it is heartening to see that the Judiciary, the government and the private sector is working towards the possible solution, the time is running out. The air pollution levels in Delhi are a public health emergency. But let us find out how severe is the problem in Ahmedabad. 
Unfortunately, we not have reliable data about ambient air quality in Ahmedabad from the recent months. One wonders if it is the case of ‘if we don’t look that way, we don’t have to worry about it’. However, the earlier trends show that Ahmedabad does not have a very good track record of healthy ambient air quality. The levels of particular matter, specially the particulates less than 2.5 micrometers are quite high in the Ahmedabad air, often at unhealthy levels. Along with the vehicular exhausts and re-suspended dust due to vehicles, what make the things worst are the industrial fumes, open garbage burning, construction dust and the power plant emissions. 
So what is the plan of tackling the growing air pollution problem in Ahmedabad? There is nothing comprehensive in sight yet. The need of the hour is to have an air quality management unit within the Municipal Corporation with the support from the State government. This unit should have short-term plan of managing construction and road dust better while prohibiting open burning of garbage and other residues. The long term plan would include promotion of walking, cycling and public transport while improving the efficiency of the industries and the power plant in dealing with their emissions. 
Apparently, Ahmedabad has just submitted the plan make the city ‘Smart’. One important parameter of making Ahmedabad smart is to prevent or mitigate the air pollution disaster rather than passively waiting for it to occur.

(21st December, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)

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