Health Awareness

Safe Delhi: Survive Delhi

Air pollution is one of the top ten health hazards faced by human race globally. Improvements in pollution monitoring and statistical techniques during the last several decades have steadily enhanced the ability to measure the health effects of air pollution. Delhi is regularly cited as the most polluted city in the world, with air pollution causing many deaths in a year in this growing megacity.

As a landlocked megacity, Delhi has limited avenues for flushing polluted air out of the city. Coastal megacities such as Mumbai have at least a chance to substitute polluted air with relatively unpolluted sea breezes, whereas Delhi’s surrounding regions are sometimes even more polluted than the city. As per World Health Organization, Delhi had an average of 153 micrograms of the smallest particles, known as PM2.5s, per cubic meter in its air which is dangerously way above the international “safe” level of 6 micrograms per cubic meter. These particles have led to increased incidence of cardiopulmonary and respiratory diseases, coughing, bronchitis, nasal &skin allergies and lung cancer etc among the people including our children.

There are multiple factors contributing to problem of air pollution in Delhi. Classified as the world’s fifth megacity, Delhi is having population of 25.8 million which continues to grow. With more than 8 million vehicles on the roads already, 1,400 new ones are added every day. Most of those new vehicles burn diesel and face relatively low emissions standards. In addition to vehicles, there are an increasing number of diesel-burning electrical generators attached to the posh apartment blocks springing up across the capital. Farms and coal-burning factories around the region further worsen the air.

The pollution has a double-whammy effect. Health problems are happening now but the vehicle and factory exhausts also contain greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxides, ozone and carbon dioxide that will linger in the atmosphere for many decades and contribute to future climate change.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for all of us as responsible citizens of Delhi to understand the issues and look for the ways to address them. More focus should be put on the precautionary measures that can ensure the health and safety of all of us. There are simple solutions which can be easily adapted in our day-to-day lives For Example, Keeping a check on air pollution level in your area by visiting the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) website “Real time Data” where air pollution levels are revised every hour. The reference value/prescribed standard should be looked at to know how bad the pollution is at any given time. The outdoor activities including bicycling, walking, and running should be avoided when the pollution levels are high particularly in early morning & late night.

Avoid heavy traffic when possible. If you are driving in heavy traffic, make sure that the fan is set on re-circulation. The car’s air filters should be replaced on regular basis. Installation of air purifiers at home to keep the particulate levels low should be considered if air quality is excessively bad. The foods rich in vitamin C (oranges, guava, and strawberries), vitamin E (nuts and seeds) and omega-3 fatty acid should be consumed to build up immunity.

The vulnerable population including Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic illnesses, especially heart and respiratory disease should take special care to avoid ill effect of pollution on their health. During episodes of poor air quality, regular health check-ups should be carried out and a pulmonologist having expertise to treat such cases should always be kept in the loop. The patients suffering from an existing disease, especially heart disease and respiratory disease, should take all prescribed medication regularly. Disposable single use masks should be worn while going out for prolonged period in areas of overcrowding and pollution.

In addition to the above mentioned, at community level all of us can help in reducing the air pollution by encouraging use of public mode of transportation & Car-pooling; keeping a proper check on the pollution level of our vehicles, making more use of CNG; controlling the use of energy and making use of electricity in an efficient manner like Switch off fans and lights while going out; use energy efficient devices like CFL lights which are not only cost effective but also helps in reducing the pollution; exploring use of clean energy technologies like solar, wind and geothermal etc; supporting organic farmers by purchasing organic food and other organic products as these farms refrain from polluting the atmosphere with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Resident Welfare Associations in various localities can take up simple initiatives like planting more and more trees in their localities, educating the residents for ensuring proper collection, segregation of garbage from houses and the societies etc.

At government level, the government can develop a mechanism to restrict the number of personal and commercial vehicles being registered in Delhi. Making the cost of ownership very expensive will discourage personal car ownership beyond two per family. Phasing out of vehicles more than 10 years old can be worked out. Higher taxes on older vehicles of Euro II and I vehicles can be imposed. PUC (Pollution Under Control) Certification must be made more stringent and can be made conditional requirement for obtaining annual insurance for vehicles. The government must push to introduce Bharat-IV and Bharat VI vehicle norms that are based on European regulations made to regulate the amount of air pollutants from vehicles. All factories in and around Delhi should be shut down and relocated immediately to bring down pollution levels. Open waste burning which is a common practice in Delhi and NCR must be banned with immediate effect and alternate methods of waste disposal introduced.

Delhi has a high-level of dust lying on the roads and other areas that get swept aside but is seldom cleared. Removal of this will reduce the same from flying into the air by introducing larger number of vacuum cleaning vehicles. Besides this, public transportation facilities should be increased & improved e.g expanding metro and other alternate means of rapid transport like monorail, light pods and elevated dedicated bus routes etc.

The government must encourage walking and cycling by declaring certain areas of the NCR vehicle-free. A perfect example of this is ‘Raahgiri’, innovative initiative for vehicle-free mornings on Sundays, first introduced in Gurgaon and subsequently in other parts of Delhi, which shows that people are open to claiming back their city, if only government supports similar initiatives.

It is our joint responsibility to provide our future generations a healthy environment to live. Like we say charity begins at home, Let us take a pledge to do what we can for our environment and protect it to the best we can. If each one of us does our bit for our environment, I am sure Delhi will be a better place to live in. Even a small step counts…