THE TALE & WOES OF GURGAON GOING BREATHLESS
Gas Chamber. Toxic Air. Poisonous Smog. Environmental Emergency. Critical Air Situation. Respiratory Hazards. Schools Shut. Masks. High PM2.5, Stay Indoor.Poor AQI…Phew! These are the terms that we all are familiar with being a Gurgaon resident. Yes, an emergency situation across Delhi NCR.
SUBURB summarizes to demystify the pollution tale surrounding us. Here it goes…
The 2016 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranked India 141 out of 180 countries surveyed. EPI incorporates many high-priority environmental issues, including resource consumption, depletion of environmental assets, pollution, and species loss among other important topics.
Delhi air quality broke all records on November 5, last year when it was in the hazardous range for nine consecutive days, making this the longest spell of hazardous air quality since public records began.
Delhi’s air pollution has been making international headlines and the hazardous conditions are ticking all the wrong boxes to drive away global tourists, investors and the international perception towards India.
Understanding the Terminology – PM2.5 & PM10
PM2.5, PM 10, AQI, what these terms & figures mean?
Particulate Matter (PM) refers to small particles, both solid and liquid, that can enter the lungs and cause respiratory problems. Particulate matter that is between 2.5 and 10 micrometers, (smaller than the width of a human hair), is called PM10 and arises from crushing and grinding activities and dust on roads. PM less than 2.5 micrometers can only be seen through an electron microscope. It comes from cars, power plants, wood burning, forest fires, and other combustion. In addition, ammonia from fertilized fields and manure can combine with industrial emissions to form PM2.5.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it estimated that ‘around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.’
Air Quality Index (AQI)
The AQI is an index for reporting daily air quality which defines you how clean or polluted air is. Public health risks increase as the AQI rises. Different countries have their own air quality indices, corresponding to different national air quality standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates the AQI for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. For each of these pollutants, EPA has established national air quality standards to protect public health .Ground-level ozone and airborne particles are the two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country.
Deforestation or lack of green belts, excessive industrial waste, fumes emitted from factories and vehicles are some of the most common and basic factors that are harming the environment.
While we have always blamed fireworks as a major culprit in spiking the city’s pollution levels, but another major reason for poor air quality is the burning of crops, done on a large scale around this time of the year in Haryana& Punjab. ‘According to the government’s environment agency, almost 50 per cent of Delhi pollution was from crop burning or also known as ‘stubble burning’.
The open burning of waste is a large source of toxic air pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide, black carbon, dioxins, furans, and mercury. The research by International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) shows that residue burning not only releases toxic gases into the air, but also reduces soil nutrition and therefore crop yields.
India is the third largest in the emission of greenhouse gases after China and the United States. The severity of air pollution is so much that life expectancy among Indians on an average reduces by 3.4 years while among the residents of Delhi it reduces by almost 6.3 years.
As a millennium city, Gurgaon has been a shining example for setting the ball rolling in initiatives and achievements ranging from professional, social, lifestyle, wellness and much more. The citizens of the city are pro-active, keen to bring and adopt a change and many Samaritans are working towards the cause of the environment.
The message at the recent ‘Jaago Gurugram’ event at Leisure Valley that was organised by Gurgaon’s leading communities & social groups to bring attention to the growing pollution crisis.The city’s aware and proactive community from medical professionals, corporate leaders, social activists and students joined in full force to demand Government’s attention towards the deplorable state of pollution in the country.
Worried about the state of current pollution affairs and the impact it is having on the community was Deep Kalra, founder of Make My Trip, said, “As a corporate we did a survey to determine the impact pollution has on individuals. 44 per cent respondents complained suffering from respiratory issues while 69 per cent said they are considering locating away from Gurgaon. Pollution has also added an expense of almost Rs 15,000 per year that the respondents spent on purifiers and other pollution fighting devices. Staggering 70 per cent respondents said they are ready to forgo promotion to get clean air.”
Dr Sarika Verma, a city based ENT Surgeon & Allergy Specialist rued about the fact that every third house today has a nebulizer. “Why our children have to remain outdoors and not be allowed to roam free under the sky?
Call to Action
Shubhra Puri, Founder of Gurgaon One
“It’s a national public health emergency and we need to be on a war footing by taking proactive policy and enforcement measures. All sources of pollution need to be tackled including vehicular pollution, waste burning, construction debris dumping and others. Crop burning is a big culprit. Pollution is an all year round problem not just an Oct -Nov problem and is a silent killer which we must control through systemic changes. The governments must wake up and give a nationwide call to action. Enforcement agencies need more capacity to keep a vigil.
Top eco-friendly initiatives: E-rickshaws, walking, cycling, public transport use, solar, waste segregation will all help in reducing pollution.
Anuradha Prasad Dhawan, Fashion Designer
There are three raw materials used by our body – food, water and air wherein a few liters of food and water is all that we consume,importantly; we take in about 24000 breaths a day of about 0.5litre of air each – that’s a total of 12,000 liters per day. And if that is of such a dismal quality, we are looking at sickness and an onslaught of pathetic medical conditions. There is rampant destruction going on from the remotest part of the forests to deepest parts of the ocean to tallest parts of the mountains. It is imperative to bring change in our lifestyle to make things livable.
Anuradhasupports Slow Fashion through her label and is also the co-founder of the Wellington Estate Eco Club and a key member of the Aravalli Bachao movement.
Eco-friendly initiatives: Protecting and restoring forests, Segregation of Waste and Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
SUBURB speaks to experts from the medical fraternity to gauge the effect of pollution on health.
Dr Nehal Vora, General Physician.
There is an alarming spike in the number of patients coming to OPDs due to the ill effects of pollution. These problems include
- Sore Throat, Dry Cough, Shortness of Breath, Headaches, Nausea, Dry eyes, Sneezing, Chest Tightness, Irregular Heart Beat.
- Respiratory Diseases such as Allergic Bronchitis, Bronchial Asthama, Emphysema, COPD and Lung Cancer.Damage to respiratory cells causes loss of lung capacity and decreases lung function which accelerates the aging of the lungs.
- Rise in Cardiovascular illness due to added stress on the heart and lungs to work harder to supply oxygen to the body. This can trigger heart attacks and strokes.
- There is a decrease in lifespan and premature death.
- Pollution enters into the blood by crossing the lung barrier and releases harmful free radicles which affect our skin, hair, liver, spleen, intestine,bones and reproductive organs.
- Psychological Disorders like anxiety and feeling sad.
People At Risk
Patients with heart & lung diseases, pregnant women, outdoor workers, athletes, elderly above 60, children below 14yrs, patients on Immuno-suppressants
1.Stay indoors or at least avoid walking and exercising outdoors especially early morning and evening.
2. Use Air Purifiers- clean and change the filters regularly.
3. If using ACs then use on recirculation mode.
4. Use indoor plants eg Money plant, Spider plant, Aloe vera, Bamboo palm, Warneck Dracaena
5. Use N-95 or N-99 or N-100 masks
6. Reduce your carbon footprint by reducing fuel consumption, recycling, etc
7. Stay hydrated & stop smoking
8. Take your Influenza vaccine (yearly)and Pneumonia vaccine(5 yearly)
9. Use Antiallergies, Inhalers, and Nebulizers if advised
10. Improve your immunity
How to Improve Immunity?
Diet plays a huge role to fight the ill effects of pollution. Foods which produce antioxidants fight the damage and inflammation caused by free radicles in the body which are produced by pollution. Indulge in the below:
- Vitamin C: Include lemons,guava,oranges and Amla in your diet. Vegetables such as spinach, drumsticks, leafy vegetables, turnip, Radish leaves and carrots are beneficial too.
- Vitamin E: Include nuts, seeds and fish (salmon) in your diet as well as herbs such as chilies, paprika, cloves, oregano, basil, ginger, pepper, nutmeg, mint cinnamon and turmeric.
- Bajra and Rajma: Both are healthy and good for immunity.
“A warm drink made with jaggery, turmeric & spices is a wonderful antioxidant to improve immunity – sip through the day.”
Dr Shaguna Mahajan, Pediatrician
Thepollution intensity prevalent in Gurgaon is causing varied types of illnesses in children. There is an increase in number of children coming with watering of eyes, skin rash, running nose, allergic coughs and wheezing.
Asthmatic children are facing increased episodes of exacerbations. Toxic pollution levels may lead to impairment of neuro-development and cognitive ability of children, trigger asthma, obesity, diabetes and childhood cancers.
The effect of pollution starts as early as intra-uterine, when the baby is still in the mother’s womb. Babies born to mothers exposed to pollution are smaller in size, have lower immunities and developmental abilities.
The best way for children to combat pollution is off course to stay indoors especially when levels are very high or are in hazardous range. On other days, 12 noon to 4 pm are safe times. Running a purifier in the child’s room definitely improves the air quality in the room. Wearing a mask for kids above 3 years of age when playing outside is recommended, but not for children below that age as they can’t put the effort to breathe through the mask.
Importantly, children should eat a healthy and well balanced diet and remain well-hydrated.
Solution & Way Forward
The government needs to take strict actions and introduce policies that will lead to enhanced ecological balance and control the carbon footprint on our planet. The need of the hour is to provide effective solutions that can be embraced by organizations and individuals alike to bring a positive change.
There have although been various initiatives undertaken such as banning & restricting Diwali fireworks, banning single use plastic & carry bags in retail spaces, halting the construction in the city during the peak pollution days and applying the odd-even car scheme in Delhi in an attempt to curb the pollution. But there has been an increased furor on the hazards of crop burning or stubble burning.
In a move to curb this menace, fines were issued to a few farmers in Haryana and Punjab. But there is still much to be done as many carry out the burning under the cover of darkness while a majority has still been left undisturbed.
Farmers will have to be given suitable alternatives, financial support and equip them with better technologies to rectify the issue. Providing machines like ‘Happy seeder’ which allow wheat to be sown on top of rice stubble, by which not only the agricultural productivity can be increased by 1015 per cent but also it reduce labor costs and time; allowing nutrients from the crop residue to be recycled back into the soil. But these machines come at a cost that deter the farmers and they resort to the usual technique.
Government’s intervention for implementation of various existing laws to stop the burning of all categories of waste must be in place as this is the single largest contributor of PM 2.5 and releases Nano-particles which impact every organ of the human body.
Municipal Corporation Gurgaon Initiative
Amit Khatri, DC Municipal Corporation Gurgaon & Chairman of the government led body Gurujal (PICTURE OF AMIT KHATRI)
To solve the bigger environmental crisis, we’ll have to sync ourselves back with the nature in our lifestyle choices, food habits, work and value system and that is a far-fetched goal. We need awareness, intention and systems to systems think and design solutions. We need to be more educated and be able read between the lines, perceive the inter-connectedness to see that air pollution is not only being caused by Diwali fire-crackers, industry emissions, motor vehicles, stubble burning or winters setting in. It’s a mix of all.
For example, the farmer does stubble burning majorly because of two reasons – access and limited knowledge/will to use harvesters or the rush to harvest due to limited time between two cropping seasons, which is caused by the government policy demanding farmers to sow in the later months to conserve ground water and rather use rain water for harvesting of rice in case of Haryana and Punjab, which are not traditionally rice growing areas but continue to do so for better rates in exchange of crops. The cultivation of water intensive crops in arid region is the market’s demand and the farmers or government are just providing for larger market needs. So, who is the actual culprit in the chain?”
It is easy to blame the industries, farmers and government for their deeds to ruin the environment but the hard truth is directly or indirectly we are the ones who are behind the outcomes.
What we are facing today is years of ignorance, and unlike machine, nature has its own course, we’ll have to give it its own time to rejuvenate on its own.
GuruJal is a platform where more than 18 district level government departments, corporates, researchers, civil society organisations and volunteers come to address the solution dedicated to address the water management issues in the district, in a well researched, data backed, tightly monitored, holistic and timely way.
“The team is working on fixed targets and timelines. It’s supposed to complete pond rejuvenation of 250 water bodies, construction of 3 biodiversity barks and 4 city forests, 5 model roads , zero discharge units in 2 years,” says Shubhi Kesarwani, Program Manager at Gurujal.
Air QualityMonitoring System in Gurgaon
Delhi, with an area of 1,484 Sq km, has 38 air quality monitors. Gurgaon has only two to cover the area of 732 Sq Km. One is at Gwalpahari, run by the India Meteorological Department, the other is at VikasSadan, run by the Haryana State Pollution Control Board. There are different technologies being used at different monitors making the variation in the readings in the quality the index. The data from the third monitor located in Manesar, under HSPCB, is not considered while calculating the city’s AQI.
GMDA is set to put 150 new air quality monitors in the city and pollution control board has no role to play in the same.
This article was first published in the Print version of SUBURB December 2019 issue.