Editorial Simplified: Death in the Air | GS – III

Relevance : GS Paper III (Ecology & Environment)


Theme of the article

It is time clean air is made a front-line political issue.


Why has this issue cropped up?

Air pollution has killed an estimated 1.24 million people in India in 2017.


Impacts of air pollution

  • Millions of people are forced to lead morbid lives or face premature death due to bad air quality.
  • India’s national standard for ambient fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, is notoriously lax at 40 micrograms per cubic metre, but even so, 77% of the population was exposed to higher levels on average.
  • No State met the annual average exposure norm for PM2.5 of 10 micrograms per cubic metre set by the World Health Organisation.

Air pollution and life expectancy

  • If the country paid greater attention to ambient air quality and household air pollution, the researchers say, people living in the worst-affected States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Jharkhand could add more than 1.7 years to their life expectancy.
  • Similar gains would accrue nationwide, but it is regions with low social development, reflected partly in reliance on solid fuels for cooking, and those with ambient air pollution caused by stubble-burning, construction dust and unbridled motorisation such as Delhi that would benefit the most.

Way forward

  • Sustainable solutions must be found for stubble-burning and the use of solid fuels in households, the two major sources of pollution and State governments must be made accountable for this.
  • The Centre should work with Punjab and Haryana to ensure that the machinery already distributed to farmers and cooperatives to handle agricultural waste is in place and working.
  • A mechanism for rapid collection of farm residues has to be instituted. In fact, new approaches to recovering value from biomass could be the way forward. The proposal from a furniture-maker to convert straw into useful products will be keenly watched for its outcomes.
  • The potential of domestic biogas units, solar cookers and improved biomass cookstoves has to be explored, since they impose no additional expenditure on rural and less affluent households. Such measures should, of course, be complemented by strong control over urban sources of pollution.
  • India’s commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change require a sharp reduction in particulates from fossil fuel
  • There are not enough ground-level monitoring stations for PM2.5, and studies primarily use satellite imagery and modelling to project health impacts. This needs to be improved for real-time measurement of pollution should be employed.

Conclusion

Rapid progress on clean air now depends on citizens making it a front-line political issue.