A country’s air pollution index is a good measure of its recent economic growth. In South Asia, the winter has brought some major air pollution woes. Smog in some cities is so thick that it is wrecking havoc with mobility and air traffic.
The burning of fossil fuels, biomass, as well as diesel transportation, factories, power plants, and dust has caused the problem and the cold winter weather is aggravating it. As temperatures in Nepal, Bangladesh and India have plummeted, a cloud of smog hangs in the air blocking sunlight and impairing visibility.
The Meteorological Department of both India and Nepal agree that the intensity and duration of smog affected days has been on the rise in the past ten years. Many people living in these areas suffer from pulmonary and respiratory diseases. The economic effects of air pollution are severe. The World Health Organization estimates that 2.4 million people die each year due to air pollution and 1.5 million of these deaths are due to indoor air pollution. The BBC reports that, the air around the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka shows an air pollution index as high as 40%. India, the fastest growing country in South Asia is said to see a rise in particulate pollution over the next few years as its energy demands increase.
Delhi’s Metro is one of the biggest public transport systems in the country. However, the city also has some of the highest numbers of taxis, private cars, buses and autorickshaws (tuk tuks), most of which are dependent on diesel. Apart from this, power and cement plants also exist just outside city limits. According to the Centre for Science and Environment, in 2001 when Delhi introduced the CNG (compressed natural gas) program to ensure that vehicles only used CNG to cut down particulate pollution, “the annual average level of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM, or PM10) in residential areas stood at 149 microgram per cubic metre. After registering a drop in 2005, the level has shot up to 209 microgram per cubic metre in 2008. The concentration is, thus, around three times higher than the safe levels.”
This spike has been attributed to increase in private cars and drop in the use of public transport. It has also been attributed to the increase in construction in the NCR (National Capital Region) area. The governments of South Asia need to set up a stricter emissions limit on vehicular exhausts as well as on manufacturing plants. Urban greenspaces should also be encouraged to tackle the problem of city pollution. New buildings must have stricter codes of construction and the use of sustainable materials and design should be encouraged. Public transport must be improved to ensure that people are able to rely on these systems effectively. These are on-going issues that need to be tackled at national and sub-national grass-root levels in a long-term sustained manner if there is to be improvements in the situation.
Image Credit: Smog in Delhi, wili hybrid, Wikimedia Commons