Interviews |

Delhi Air Pollution harkens proper monitoring

New Delhi, March 8 (G’nY News Service): In the recent weeks, Delhi has managed to hit the headlines, but unfortunately not for reasons that will make its inhabitants proud. Apparently, the state of air pollution in the city has deteriorated so much that fresh air is today a fantasy.

According to 2014 version of the ambient air pollution (AAP) database released by World Health Organisation (WHO) that contains results of outdoor air pollution monitoring from almost 1600 cities in 91 countries, Delhi has been declared ‘the most polluted city’ as far as air quality goes, due to its alarming levels of PM2.5 and other toxic components. PM2.5 is particulate matter which is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and is believed to pose a grave health risk because it penetrates deeply into lungs.

To understand the seriousness and the consequences that the future holds, Gn’Y interviewed Sarath Guttikunda, founder director of UrbanEmissions.info. He is an adjunct associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai) and an affiliate associate research professor at the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Reno, USA.

Sarath Guttikunda B

Sarath Guttikunda, founder director, UrbanEmissions.info

In the recent times Beijing has got more attention for its air pollution, but India has a much graver problem to deal with. Your comments?

This question is a bit all over the place. I think, in general Asia is getting more attention for all the air pollution problems in the cities and some cities more in particular. The debate of who is worse, between Delhi and Beijing, is always there. Comparisons aside, both are bad. Let’s leave it at that. The only reason why China is talked about more in the press is because they actually have a lot of monitoring data on a regular basis, from multiple stations and multiple cities.

Unlike in India, where we talk about Delhi more because we have some numbers from here and nothing or limited from the other cities. If we had data coming from more cities in India then there are cities other than Delhi, which could be worse. If you are referring to graver problem in India as in not knowing where the pollution is and how much that pollution is, then we certainly do have a problem.

Does India lack awareness or are its authorities negligent about the air pollution in cities?

To simply put it, awareness is there. However, we do not have comprehensive knowledge of where the pollution is coming from and how much that pollution is. So, we (mostly authorities) keep mum about the issue or surrender by saying we don’t know and we are working on finding it.

How is PM2.5 and PM10 different? And which one should we be worried about?

The smaller the particulate matter (PM) size, more harmful it is. So, PM2.5 is more harmful than PM10. In the past, we talked about PM10 because we were only monitoring that. Now, since some cities are measuring PM2.5, which is more linked to human health issues, we are referring to it as well.

How much worse will the condition of air pollution become, if usage of coal is encouraged to help reboot the economy? Is it justified to seek economic growth while ignoring the deteriorating health due to it?

It is not about coal. It is about all the sources. In Delhi, a majority of the pollution comes from diesel in the transport sector and in the power sector (generator sets), followed by the garbage burning. For more than a decade, the coal part has been very constant, but the diesel consumption has more than doubled. Everybody says, ‘health is wealth’..so, pollution reduction means economic growth.

Now that the problem of air pollution is out in the open what should be the ideal way forward for the authorities as well as the citizens?

There should be more monitoring stations set up in the city. For example, Beijing operates 35 stations and Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) operates 7. Both are of comparable geographical size. More than the number of stations, the data should be made public in real time, so that people are aware of the consequences in real time. Authorities need to start worrying about the basic facilities to the people – making walking and cycling safe in the city (so that people willing to do so have the opportunity and not use their motorcycles or cars), making the waste collection processes effective (so that no waste is left behind for open burning) and maintaining the roads (so that there is no dust on the roads for re-suspension).

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