A few years ago it suddenly became very uncool to be a smoker. Cigarettes went from chic to tragic overnight. Heaven help anyone caught in the accidental cross-fire or backdraft of a puff of smoke, the hazards were deemed lethal. And yet the air pollution in Delhi is so out of control that smoking 50 cigarettes a day would be less hazardous. Something as ordinary as breathing clean air has become as elusive as the visibility, as a thick layer of smog settles in over the city. Residents are furious, while the Government continues to hide behind smoke screens and mirrors and their promises disappear into not so thin air.
Countries measure air quality through an index which takes into account 5 common pollutants, regulated under the Clean Air Act (1970). This AQI (Air Quality Index) is measured and reported daily. On a clear November day in Sydney, it sits at about 30. As Delhi wakes up to a soupy grey haze this morning, their AQI will likely hit over 1,000+ again. On the international scale, a rating of 300+, suggests the air is highly polluted and extremely dangerous. A study of over 160 countries revealed that Delhi’s average AQI hovers around 342, sadly giving it the title of the world’s poorest air quality. It’s the only thing I cannot love about an otherwise refreshing and lucid city.
Despite the groundswell of action, the Government has done little except implement a sort of vague avoidance policy and suggest that re-introducing the odd-even traffic scheme* will help. Though they’ve had years of experience and plenty of time to come up with something more solid. As a landlocked city in one of the world’s hottest and most densely populated countries, the odds for clean living are firmly stacked against Delhi. Add into the mix, the seasonal rice husk burning by surrounding farms and the $US923 million strong firecracker industry, even a brisk walk outside today is courting with danger. Each year thousands die because of the severe air quality, notwithstanding the widespread poor health conditions and restricted lifestyle imposed on so many. This week the Government closed schools in central Delhi. It was at least action, but nothing towards managing the rising pollution levels and certainly not enough to quell the rising frustrations. People have taken to the streets, even in the murky conditions, that’s how strongly they feel about the need for a clean air revolution.
Increasing populations, global warming, our continued denigration of our beautiful planet and sheer overindulgence may be some of the underlying causes. In our zest for more, we are choking nature and our future. Something has to be done. It is not enough for Governments to simply look the part, as custodians of influence action must be taken. Cease the ongoing agricultural burning; surely the Government can find another use for the rice husk waste, ban firecrackers totally, spend the next decade building a light rail system to remove cars from central Delhi, reduce the duty on electric cars to make them more affordable, drive renewable energy solutions (solar and wind power) and starting now, help those who need it most with the subsidised provision of air filters and purifiers in homes. It’s getting into winter in India and the stifling cold on the streets means that fires are burnt along the road to keep the homeless warm. The world is not shrinking, the seasons are not changing; surely the time is now to implement effective changes that will ease the burden for the kids of tomorrow. The haze of filthy air hanging over Delhi is not going to evaporate on its own, it needs ownership. In 2012 China made significant legislative shifts to clear its own “airpocolypse” and now it’s India’s turn before it runs out of choices.
*The odd-even scheme was implemented as a short-term solution in Delhi (2015) to reduce the traffic on the roads. Cars with odd number plates were permitted to be on the road only on odd-numbered dates and the same applied to even number plates and respective dates.