Air pollution has made our cities less safe and less liveable and has earned them the epithet ‘gas chambers’. Breathing the polluted air in the affected areas is said to be equivalent to smoking more than 30 cigarettes a day. Victims of air pollution are de facto chain smokers. The WHO has rightly described air pollution as the "new tobacco". Breathing polluted air shortens life expectancy. Clogging up of the windpipe or trachea and lungs with particulate matter causes irreversible damage to the respiratory system and, by extension, to the entire body. The correlation between air pollution and various medical conditions is well documented. The vulnerability of children should add a new urgency to the fight against air pollution. The importance of securing the future of our children should galvanise bickering politicians into seeking remedial action.
Air pollution is a man-made crisis with unfavourable meteorological conditions making only a minimal contribution. It has resulted from bursting crackers, burning crop stubble as seen by us and NASA satellites (successive governments have failed to make cultivation in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh scientific and sustainable and offer help to get rid of agricultural residue without farmers having to burn the crop stubble), garbage burning, road dust, exhaust fumes from vehicular traffic (“odd-even” rule certainly reduces the number of cars on the roads and the level of pollution and hence is a good thing), reckless construction work (Rs 1 lakh fine now imposed by the Supreme Court should halt it), old power plants, overuse of air-conditioners and so on. The soaring sales of face-masks, air purifiers and related medicine are a fallout of the very alarming Air Quality Index (AQI) levels leading to the declaration of public health emergency.
Clearly, we have brought it upon ourselves. While we become wiser after an event, we are also prone to relapsing into our bad old ways once things improve a bit.
G David Milton Maruthancode
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