Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kathmandu to Thrashmandu !!

They don't call it Trashmandu for nothing. In Nepal's capital city of Kathmandu, garbage is pretty much everywhere. It's stuffed in plastic bags and dropped in drainage ditches. It's piled high in empty lots, on the roadside and on the edges of the city's sewage-filled rivers. It is thrown out of bus windows and off rooftops into neighbors' yards. It's hard to believe Kathmandu could get any worse. But this month, it did.

The piles of trash that are smothering Kathmandu are a reminder that the world itself is drowning in garbage. A World Bank report puts daily garbage generation at 3.5 million tons, expected to hit 6 million tons by 2025. And governments aren't always willing to pick up the trash. Nepal's government, for example, has shown little commitment to the disposal of the valley's garbage despite passing a Solid Waste Management Act in 2011. The government is trying to prepare a new landfill site, but a road needs to be built and a river needs to be diverted. That will take at least another three years.

Read more @ NPR

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Paris Imposed 50% Vehicle Ban to Curb Smog

Paris on Monday imposed a partial driving ban and made public transport free in an attempt to cut noxious smog, after pollution levels briefly surpassed that of Shanghai last week. Authorities announced that all cars with plates ending in even numbers must stay off the roads on Monday, after days of political wrangling over how to tackle the high amount of harmful particles shrouding Paris.

Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor, had wanted to impose the ban last week after lack of wind or rain and cold nights helped push up pollution levels. According to Plume Labs, Paris for a few hours last week hit 127 in its air pollution index chart of 60 cities, with Shanghai in second place on 106 and London on 91. However, the government of fellow Socialists refused, reportedly so as not to annoy suburban voters ahead of Sunday’s local elections.

Read more @ Telegraph.UK

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Air Pollution Alert Issued in England

Smog over parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland has prompted a warning from Public Health England. The Department for Environment said there was moderate to high levels of the pollution, which is caused by traffic fumes and other sources. Air pollution has also blown in from Europe and Public Health England said the conditions could affect people with lung or heart problems or asthma.

Defra said levels were due to fall to moderate or low levels by Friday. More @ BBC

Smog is formed when pollutants, dust, pollen and other particles that would normally be dispersed by winds are prevented from escaping from the layer of cool air that is trapped at the Earth's surface.
Sotiris Vardoulakis, head of Public Health England's air pollution and climate change group, said: "While most people will not be affected by short term peaks in air pollution - some individuals, particularly vulnerable groups such as those with existing heart or lung conditions, may experience increased symptoms."

Technical Solutions are not Enough to Solve Air Pollution Problems in Indian Cities

In 2006, Al Gore broke down the complicated issue of climate change in “An Inconvenient Truth” to make it understandable to the public. In a similar manner, a month back, “Under the Dome” — a documentary on air pollution in China — highlighted the known linkages between pollutants and human health. Even though the documentary is in Chinese, the message is global. It is especially relevant for Indian cities where air pollution is going from bad to worse, and where there is a lack of understanding of where this pollution is coming from and what we must to do about it.

Read more @ the Hindu

Documentary on Air Pollution in China

According to the World Health Organization, 25-30 cities in the top 100 most polluted cities in the world are from India. The Global Burden of Disease assessments for 2010 estimated that 6,27,000 premature deaths in India can be attributed to outdoor air pollution. Of the pollution-related risks, a substantial increase was observed in the cases of ischemic heart disease (which can lead to heart attacks), cerebro-vascular disease (which can lead to strokes), chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, lower respiratory infections, and cancers (in trachea, lungs, and bronchitis). These estimates do not include acute impacts such as asthma attacks, eye irritations and other respiratory ailments. We still do not know and have not quantified the long-term health impacts of air pollution on vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. The pollutant with the most impact on health is Particulate Matter. Particulate Matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micron-meter is especially harmful as they are small enough to settle inside our lungs and cause long-term health problems. Other pollutants are Sulfur dioxide, Nitrogen oxides, Carbon monoxide, and ozone.

According to the 2011 census, by 2030, with a majority of the population classified as urban, the expected growth and demand in industrial, transportation, and domestic sectors will consequently result in an increase in problems of air pollution, which will spread from the big cities to secondary and tertiary cities. In the early 2000s, Delhi mandated a policy to convert auto-rickshaws, taxis and buses from diesel to Compressed Natural Gas. The benefits from this switch lasted for 3-4 years, but as the number of vehicles kept increasing, pollution levels from the transport sector were once again high. Such a large-scale conversion or any such intervention to target air pollution was not attempted again in any other city.

Air pollution is a complicated issue and is most often a symptom of inadequate urban planning. Lack of power supply leads to the use of diesel generator sets; lack of buses to support the public transport demand leads to higher use of personal vehicles; lack of infrastructure to promote walking and cycling leads to more motorised transport; lack of road maintenance and traffic management by allowing on-road parking leads to congestion; lack of a sufficient waste management system leads to garbage being left behind and often burnt in residential areas; and lack of paved or covered roads leads to re-suspension of dust when vehicles are passing by. The fact that air pollution is an externality from multiple sectors means that it needs to be addressed by multiple ministries that are willing to coordinate with one another. Technical solutions alone, like introducing CNG or changing standards for vehicles and industries, will not be sufficient to control air pollution in Indian cities. We need a change in the institutional setup in ways that will allow department and ministries to work together.

As citizens, it is our right to know the quality of air that we breathe, the severity of pollution in the air, and where this pollution is coming from. There are multiple sources and there is little that one can do as an individual that would make an impact on reducing emissions. Only when the government takes the lead to address this seriously, by mandating policies in the context of wider social and economic development, will we have any real change towards improving the quality of air. This will not be easy as it is a complicated issue, but we need to start somewhere. Getting a sense of how bad the air is through regular monitoring, and allowing citizens to demand action, is the first step. And we must take that step.