Action plan needed to control pollution

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The Government should not offer complex reasons to justify the rising levels of toxic air in Delhi. It is time now to save a generation of children from this menace

Unmindful of the heavy smog that had literally left her gasping for breath for the past few days, my eight-year-old niece asked me matter-of-factly that why she was being forced to be indoors when I and other elders at home have always persuaded her to be less of indoors and more of outdoors.

Children are big observant. My niece further queried that if pollution-laden crackers are nuisance, then why are they available in the market? If trees are meant to purify the air, then why do we cut them? Her list of questions seemed to be long. I fumbled for the answers. What should I say? Should I tell her the smog will kill her and crackers are part of celebrations and festivals — nowadays, there are fire crackers even during cricket matches, festivals, weddings and anniversaries — even if, they are dangerous to not only human beings and animals, but also wastage of money.

Or  should I simply confess her that we as elders have, all these years, closed eyes to let the environment deteriorate and cared little to protect the earth which we, in actual, have inherited from our children like her.

A recent report by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) should serve as a wake-up call. The agency underscored that the alarming level of air pollution, which is major contributing factor to some of the most deadly diseases children face, is not just a challenge in Delhi, but for many cities around the world.

Sounding an alarming note, the agency said almost a million children under five die from pneumonia per year — and about half of those cases are directly linked with air pollution. It noted that air pollution levels in other Indian cities, such as Varanasi and Lucknow, have been equally extreme in recent days. And, over the past year, air pollution levels in London, Beijing, Mexico City, Los Angeles and Manila have exceeded international guidelines — in some cases, by considerable margin.

The UNICEF analysed that globally 300 million children live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution — exceeding six times international guidelines. It emphasised that nations need stronger measures to cut back on the sources of air pollution, which cannot be contained within borders and spreads across regions.

Air pollution moves across borders, both national ones as well as sub-national ones, and so, we will need coherent government policies to address these transboundary risks, it said. The UNICEF said providing children, with access to good quality healthcare is a major part of protecting them from air pollution and treatment and prevention programmes for pneumonia, as well as other respiratory conditions, can significantly reduce the chance, a child falls sick or dies.

No doubt, crackers burning during Diwali triggered the worsening of the environment. Delhi's air quality usually worsens with the onset of winter, particularly after Diwali’s fireworks. Cooler temperatures trap the pollutants. The capital is also affected by dusty winds from the arid west, the burning of crop stubble in farms around the city, and smoke from fires used in poorer neighbourhoods for heating and cooking.

However, these are just some of the reasons for environment degradation. Mindless killing of trees, spate of construction activities, rapid urbanisation, increased number of vehicles depending on toxic petrol and diesel, denuding mountains too have led to air pollution all these years.

While the green activists had been warning us time and now — every time a violation has taken place, such as trees are brought down to pave way for the shopping malls, river banks are misused for holding mega events or setting up bus depots. But their intentions have most time dismissed, terming them, as vested interests.

Let's admit that we all are responsible for this havoc. The Governments will always justify with complex reasons. But, this is not going to serve the purpose and save our kids from toxic air.

A careful and serious action plan is needed that would pave the way for a more constructive rejuvenation of the eco-system to protect our kids. The Government has a range of proposals to chose from and make an honest statement that there is no room for complacency or procrastination.

(The writer is special correspondent, The Pioneer)

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