Air pollution is often not spoken of beyond Delhi, although it impacts millions of people across the country, including Bengalureans. But thanks to rising awareness, better understanding of the causes and collective action of citizens and groups , the government has announced a National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which promises to take time-bound action to tackle air pollution in around 120 cities of the country. The issue needs a three-pronged approach: Preventive action to protect the vulnerable population from exposure to air pollution, short-term action to reduce high pollution episodes and finally long-term action to bring overall pollution levels below national/international standards.
It is well established by medical research that consequences of incremental air pollution are higher at lower concentrations, which means that if the PM2.5 concentration rises from 10 to 50 microgram/m3, the adverse health impact will be very high and increase only slowly thereafter at higher concentrations. So, it is crucial for Bengaluru to arrest air pollution and reduce it to the World Health Organisation(WHO) prescribed annual levels of 10 micrograms/m3 to provide a healthy environment for its people. Unfortunately, its annual air pollution levels have been hovering around 45-50 micrograms/m3 over the last several years
Broadly, the major reasons for the city’s air pollution are transport, construction, waste and industries along with other sources. Besides these causes, episodic events such as bursting of firecrackers or large scale burning of anything also lead to high levels of pollution.
On Sunday, we celebrated the festival of lights, which brings joy to millions of people. But it is also one of the biggest air polluting episodes of the year. The data of the air quality monitoring stations of the pollution control board is alarming. Even with the rain in the city on Sunday, its air quality levels reached hazardous
levels of 200 micrograms per cubic meter between 8 and 10 pm. This reflects not only the rise in tiny particles of diameter 2.5 micrometers in the air we breathe, but also the emission of toxic gases into it, making it very harmful to human and animal health.
Dealing with air pollution is a very complex matter. It requires initiatives at multiple levels involving policy, implementation and public participation. Be it bursting of firecrackers, use of privatised diesel- based transport for our daily commute, or burning of waste on roadsides, they all contribute to the worsening environment. Whether it is transportation or celebration, the answer is to move away from individual ways to community- centric approaches such as the initiative taken by the Delhi government this year to reduce air pollution. But a change along these lines could be a long time in coming....