We deserve a city with clean air says Elsamarie DSilva

babies toxic air

While Diwali is a wonderful time for celebration and is a reminder of good triumphing over evil, it has also had unintended side effects. Due to the dust particles in the air and the aftermath of the firecrackers, across the last few days people in Delhi NCR have woken up to an extreme haze that has lasted until nearly noon every day. It’s causing breathing problems, asthma and other respiratory conditions for some.

One of my team members who recently moved to Delhi posted on Facebook, “…definitely not like a world I’d want to visit. I’m starting to have breathing difficulties for the first time ever in [my] life. Constant sickness is an added flavour. Alarming is a euphemism.”

Delhi Airpollution Masks

Delhi Airpollution Masks, Picture by IndiaTimes

According to air quality monitored by the Central Pollution Control Board, PM 2.5 in Delhi went up to 999 in the US Embassy area and 702 in Anand Vihar. In R K Puram, PM 2.5 went up to 643 micrograms which is almost ten times the safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metres and PM 10 stood at 999 micrograms per cubic metres which is also way more than the safe limit of 100 micrograms.

This situation is particularly distressing and highlights the importance for the need to seriously adopt the New Urban Agenda that was passed at the United Nations Habitat III in Quito in October. Urbanisation is one of the 21st century’s more transformative trends and pressing challenges given that 80% of the world’s population is going to be living in cities by 2050, double what it is today.

With increased populations and limited resources there is going to be continued strain on infrastructure, housing, basic services, food security, education, decent jobs, safety and natural resources amongst others. Environmental degradation will continue if serious effort is not made to address the situation.

At the start of the year, the Delhi Government introduced a short term solution to address the extreme air pollution by regulating the number of cars on the road through an odd/even number scheme. They reintroduced the scheme for two weeks once again in April. The first time around people were sceptical but the situation was so bad that they were willing to give it a try and were surprised when it worked. But the second time around, the same scheme met with a luke-warm response. Once again, the city is engulfed in a similar situation.

Singapore has a strict policy of controlling the number of cars on the road and the ownership of them. There is a constant effort to make the city state “car light” and increase the use of public transportation

This cannot be treated with short term, Band-Aid solutions. There should be a comprehensive plan to address environmental pollution and ensure citizens have clean air.

Interestingly, I am in Singapore on a research visit with the Commonwealth Leaders Program trying to understand the collaborative efforts between government, private sector and civil society. Singapore has a strict policy of controlling the number of cars on the road and the ownership of them. There is a constant effort to make the city state “car light” and increase the use of public transportation. The aim is to not only to reduce traffic congestion but also the emissions from the cars. In addition, there is constant effort to ensure there are “green lungs” all over the city state as these would help in maintaining the air quality, reduce the noise and provide a soothing respite in a very built up urban environment.

Right now the situation in Delhi is critical, but it can be addressed over a long term by introducing urban planning measures and policies that are holistic, integrated with the New Urban Agenda where world leaders have committed to increase their use of renewable energy, provide better and greener public transport, and sustainably manage their natural resources. After all tackling air pollution in cities is good both for people”s health and for the planet.