Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, May 09, 2014

Sweet Oblivion, Stark Disillusion

"I am shocked at the extent of the problem they found in India."
"This is incredibly bad, and there is a complete lack of awareness about it both amongst policymakers and the common man."
Dr. Sundeep Salvi, director, Chest Research Foundation, Pune, India
Vendors selling drinks stand beside vehicles near the India Gate war memorial on a smoggy day in New Delhi February 1, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files
Vendors selling drinks stand beside vehicles near the India Gate war memorial on a smoggy day in New Delhi February 1, 2013.
Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi/Files
"Our levels are comparable with those of other cities."
"Delhi's air quality is better than Beijing's in summer and much better in monsoon season."
Gufran Beig, chief scientist, Indian state-operated air quality weather forecasting and research
In 2012, air pollution, according to the World Health Organization, killed seven million people worldwide. In other words, air pollution represents the globe's largest environmental health risk. Roughly 80% of the deaths resulted from heart attacks and strokes impacted by environmentally degraded atmospheres. Air pollution is known as well to increase lung cancer mortality.

What is absolutely astonishing is that Indians appear to be nonplussed about the new status given their environment. Despite the level of particulate matter circulating in the air about them, they seem to be completely unaware. Unlike Beijing citizens, few people in India have taken to wearing filter masks. Wealthy Indians haven't bothered to install the kind of air purifiers widely used in East Asia; they seem unconcerned and unaware.

Pedestrians gathered as smog enveloped the Red Fort in New Delhi in 2009. Credit Raveendran/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Yet the air in New Delhi has been scientifically proven to be more polluted than that in Beijing. Cities ranking on the newly-released World Health Organization research on pollution levels internationally, are demonstrably second through fourth in India, within the central Hindi belt. India has missed out only on first-place standing; that record falls to Peshawar, Pakistan. The rivalry between Pakistan and India is fearsomely virulent in political and religious terms.

It will bring little comfort to Pakistan to be hailed as having the distinction of representing the world's top talent in environmental degradation. In New Delhi on Thursday, air pollution monitors quantified levels of the small particles considered the most dangerous for lung health (PM 2.5) at over 350 micrograms per cubic metre of air; twice as  high as Beijing's morning peak.

PM 2.5 speaks of particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, believed to pose the greatest risk to human health, penetrating deeply into lungs. A pollution level high as Delhi's in Beijing would be the cause of huge concern. No one in Delhi, however, appears to notice it as anything extraordinary.

The WHO report examined pollution levels in almost 1,600 cities throughout 91 countries between the years 2008 - 20013. It discovered the annual mean for PM 2.5 concentrations in Delhi came to 153 micrograms per cubic metre. After Delhi the Indian cities of Patna, Gwalior and Raipur followed for dismally awful air pollution readings. Beijing's annual mean in the report by contrast, came to 59.

India's chief scientist at its state-operated system of air quality forecasting and research contends that the annual mean provided for Deli in the report could not possibly be correct.

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