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Long-term solution needed for pollution problem in Indian capital: Expert

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Nov 08, 2022 - 07:17 AM

NEW DELHI (AA) – Long-term solutions are needed to overcome the problem of severe air pollution looming over the Indian capital New Delhi, according to a top environmental expert in the country.

Gufran Beig, founder project director of India’s state-run System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) initiative, told Anadolu Agency in an interview that there was need for joint collective efforts conducted by local state governments to reduce the level of pollution hanging over the city of more than 32 million inhabitants.

Authorities in New Delhi last week announced additional restrictions, including the closure of primary schools as pollution in the capital reached “alarming levels.” As air quality improved, many of these curbs were lifted as of Monday.

For residents of New Delhi, oppressive air pollution has become a regular problem that often gets worse in the winter.

“We need to take steps on a long-term basis and it has to be a joint effort. The authorities have to identify sources and then work on them. What are the reasons for the deterioration of air quality and which is the major culprit? Then prioritize your actions based on strength. Small measures won’t help much,” said Beig, underlining that need for collective effort.

He said authorities should take steps “that are scientific and robust.”

“We need to understand, the pollution in New Delhi is not because of Delhi,” he said, adding that the neighboring states “have to sit together and take steps, which would help, instead of small steps here and there.”

In Delhi itself, pollution from motor vehicles is a major contributor with 40%, he said, maintaining that within a radius of 200 kilometers (about 125 miles), “biofuel emissions become the dominating sector and that has to be addressed in the peripheries.”

Stubble burning

The seasonal practice of farmers in north India setting fire to their fields at the onset of winter to clear crop stubble from harvested rice paddies, also known as stubble burning, is also a major contributing factor to air pollution above the capital.

Beig said that the early harvesting of paddy could help minimize pollution.

“If we sow the paddy one month in advance, then harvesting will be finished by September end or October’s first week and as per our research recently published, Delhi can avoid extreme pollution events,” said Beig. He added, however, that while days of severe pollution could be avoided, “very poor days” would still occur and “it is not the end of the issue.

He elaborated that the long-term solution to the problem included changing crop patterns. “If we have to go ahead with paddy, it can be done in a way so that harvesting is finished by September,” he said.

Beig said that improving Delhi’s air quality will require action outside the borders of the capital territory.

“Within Delhi, 20-40% of pollution comes from outside. If we don’t take control steps in those areas then things will be hard to improve,” he said. “It is the National Capital Region (areas around Delhi), where you have to take proper control steps, rather than focusing on control only within Delhi.”

He added that weather could “exploit” air quality only when sources of air pollutants are present. “If we target sources, then what can weather exploit?”

The environmentalist also said that while orders and advisories are being issued, implementation also must be ensured. “We need to check that. We have to do things, as per planning and things will help. It has to be meticulously planned, and implementable,” he said.

The 2021 World Air Quality Report by Greenpeace, listed New Delhi as the most polluted capital city in the world for the fourth year in a row.

Also, a study published by the Lancet Planetary Health journal revealed that pollution had resulted in more than 2.3 million premature deaths in India in 2019.

Health problems

Jaspreet Singh, a health expert in northern India, described to Anadolu Agency the magnitude of the health problem posed by pollution.

“If a person is living in a polluted city, he is prone to multiple health problems and studies have shown that life expectancy decreases as well,” he said.

“So the need of the hour is for the authorities to take effective steps to reduce pollution.”

Singh underlined that wearing a mask, following the latest air quality information and taking measures accordingly, and minimizing outdoor activity during higher levels of pollution are some of the precautions residents should take in wake of higher pollution levels.

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