Emergent need of drastic actions to control air pollution

Debapriya Mukherjee
Contd from previous issue
In India, the Governments both at Central and States  adopted unprecedented measures to protect people from COVID-19 but they are not serious enough to avoid the millions of preventable deaths caused by air pollution every year.  The report prepared by Swiss Organization IQAir (2020) helps us to realize that our efforts and actions to reduce the invisible killer, i.e., air pollution are not at all adequate and we have to put sincere effort to prevent air pollution at a faster pace, on a massive scale and differently to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Because the preventive measures taken by regulatory authorities to abate air pollution are too little, too late. This air pollution is not only restricted in Delhi or other cities as reported by Swiss Organization, it is now  everywhere in India. Anywhere we start placing pollution monitoring equipment, we will realize that the air we breathe is toxic.
According to the findings of the study, almost two thirds of the deaths caused by air pollution, namely around 5.5 million a year are avoidable, and the majority of polluted air comes from the use of fossil fuels. The average life expectancy world-wide would increase by more than a year if the emissions from the use of fossil fuels were eliminated.
The first line of defense against this carnage is ambient air quality standards. Over half of the world's population lives without the protection of adequate air quality standards. The weakest air quality standards are often violated, particularly in  India. In contrast, the strictest standards are often met, in places like Canada and Australia. Thereby more than half of the world urgently needs protection in the form of adequate PM2.5 ambient air quality standards. Putting strictest standards in place everywhere will save countless lives. Where standards are already in place, they should be harmonized globally.  High population density is not necessarily a barrier to fighting air pollution successfully. Several jurisdictions with densely populated areas were successful in setting and enforcing strict standards. These included Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic.
To improve air quality in the future,  more drastic reductions of emissions from sources that are regulated such as power plant, vehicle and many more and that are not extensively regulated, such as manure management, changing personal diets and improving formulations of cleaning supplies, paints, inks etc are in emergent need.
In this context, million dollar question is whether there is enough political will to aggressively fight the health emergency India faces today and move away from polluting fuels and practices of the past ? This is the high time to appeal to our politicians to frame long term measures otherwise humanity would be in danger.  Governments have to realize that the aim is pollution control, not any lecture or excuse. We should not be mute spectators to what is happening today in the name of pollution control.
The writer is  former Senior Scientist at Central Pollution Control Board