Mumbai: Clean air, a freely available natural resource, basic to survival, is now scarce and a health hazard with around a third of global air pollution deaths occurring in Asia, air pollution has now become fatal. Among the Asian countries, India fared worst, with 2.5 million people dying early because of pollution, followed by China with 1.8 million deaths, according to the recent ‘Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health’.
Having clean air can save four million lives in Asia, pointed out United Nations’ (UN) report, ‘Air pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-based Solutions’. The report released at the World Health Organisation’s first Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health in Geneva has listed out 25 simple and cost-effective measures, which if implemented can provide clean air to billions in Asia.
The report comes in at a time when many cities in India are facing an emergency situation even before winter and Diwali. According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s latest data on Air Quality Index (AQI), 51 of 70 cities in the country have crossed the safe AQI level of 50. People residing in these cities are breathing toxic air that can be categorised into ‘severe’, ‘poor’ or ‘moderate’ category. In other words, it means that the air in 51 cities can lead to health problems like breathing discomfort, asthma, heart diseases and respiratory illness.
Here’s a look at 25 measures listed by the UN that can help improve quality of air:
- Post-combustion controls: Introduce state-of-the-art ‘end-of-pipe measures’ (a method that is used to remove already formed contaminants from a stream of air, water, waste, product or similar) to reduce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate emissions at power stations and in large-scale industry
- Industrial process emissions standards: Introduce advanced emissions standards in industries, e.g., iron and steel plants, cement factories, glass production, chemical industry, etc.
- Emissions standards for road vehicles: Strengthen all emissions standards, with special focus on regulation of light- and heavy-duty diesel vehicles
- Vehicle inspection and maintenance: Enforce mandatory checks and repairs for vehicles
- Dust control: Suppress construction and road dust; increase green areas
- Agricultural crop residues: Manage agricultural residues, including strict enforcement of bans on open burning
- Residential waste burning: Strictly enforce bans on open burning of household waste
- Prevention of forest and peatland fires: Prevent forest and peatland fires through improved forest, land and water management and fire prevention strategies
- Livestock manure management: Introduce covered storage and efficient application of manures; encourage anaerobic digestion
- Nitrogen fertiliser application: Inefficiency in the use of nitrogen-based fertiliser use results in a significant release of nitrogen compounds in the air. This can result in lung infection and other respiratory problems. UN suggests substituting nitrogen fertilisers with ammonium nitrate or switching to slow-release fertilisers
- Brick kilns: Improve efficiency and introduce emissions standards
- International shipping: Require low-sulphur fuels and control of particulate emissions
- Solvent use and refineries: Long term exposure to solvents can lead to deleterious effects on respiratory, haematological and thyroid functioning. UN suggests introducing low-solvent paints for industrial and household uses
- Clean cooking and heating: Use clean fuels – electricity, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in cities, and LPG and advanced biomass cooking and heating stoves in rural areas; substitution of coal by briquettes
- Renewables for power generation: Use incentives to foster extended use of wind, solar and hydro power for electricity generation and phase out the least efficient plants
- Energy efficiency for households: Use incentives to improve the energy efficiency of household appliances, buildings, lighting, heating and cooling; encourage rooftop solar installations
- Energy efficiency standards for industry: Introduce ambitious energy efficiency standards for industry
- Electric vehicles: Promote the use of electric vehicles
- Improved public transport: Encourage a shift from private passenger vehicles to public transport
- Solid waste management: Encourage centralised waste collection with source separation and treatment, including gas utilisation
- Rice paddies: Encourage intermittent aeration of continuously flooded paddies
- Wastewater treatment: Introduce well-managed two-stage treatment with biogas recovery
- Coal mining: Encourage pre-mining recovery of coal mine gas
- Oil and gas production: Encourage recovery of associated petroleum gas; stop routine flaring; improve leakage control
- Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant replacement: Ensure full compliance with the Kigali Amendment that aims to reduce concentrations of Hydrofluorocarbons (organic compounds used in air conditioning and as refrigerants) in the atmosphere by phasing down their production and consumption.
According to the report, effectively implementing the 25 measures would result in a 20 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide and a 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions, preventing up to a third of the global warming in degree Celsius.
Resulting reductions in ground-level ozone would reduce crop losses by 45 per cent for maize, rice, soy and wheat combined.
Two-thirds of the early deaths occur in the Asia-Pacific region due to air pollution. The reductions in outdoor air pollution from the 25 measures could reduce premature mortality in the region by one third and help avoid about two million premature deaths from indoor air pollution.
There are numerous tried and tested solutions that we can put in place now to solve the problem of air pollution. Implementing these air quality measures is not only good for health and the environment, it can also boost innovation, job creation and economic growth, UN Environment head Erik Solheim said.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.