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Why isn’t India fixing its toxic smog problem?

Shillong Times 2018-11-08 01:04:53

Why isn’t India fixing its toxic smog problem?

NEW DELHI: As pollution levels surged to severe and hazardous levels in New Delhi this week, there was little sign that residents of India’s teeming capital were doing much to protect themselves.
The smog, which is expected to worsen in the next few days, exposed people to as much as 24 times the recommended limits for dangerous particles on Monday. But unlike in many Chinese cities, where face masks are a common sight when smog levels spike, it is still rare to see locals taking measures to reduce their exposure.
The apparent lack of concern about the toxic air – whether through ignorance, apathy or the blinding impact of poverty – gives federal and local politicians the cover they need for failing to vigorously address the problem, said pollution activists, social scientists and political experts.
And while Delhi may have a population of more than 20 million, its importance at voting time – a national election is due by May next year – is insignificant in comparison with states such as neighboring Uttar Pradesh, which has 220 million.
“The tragedy is that there is no political will at all either on the part of the federal government or the state government of Delhi and, as a result, we can see both blaming each other for the crisis that we are in,” said Yogendra Yadav, a political polling expert. “Whatever little government action you get to see is because of the pressure that environmental activists and the Supreme Court get to exert.”
India’s problems with smog extend far beyond Delhi – the nation of 1.3 billion has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.
Most officials expect to wake up to even worse pollution on Nov. 8, as smoke from the festivities mixes with the smog from other sources to create a deadly cocktail. Light seasonal winds and a lack of rain at this time of year means pollution can linger for weeks, as it did last year.
For Delhi’s doctors it is a nightmare.
This year, the number of patients with severe lung problems has already gone up by up by 25 percent and is expected to increase further after Diwali, said Doctor Desh Deepak, a chest physician at government-run Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.
Modi has not publicly addressed the health crisis that has engulfed the capital.
The grim prognosis means that foreign organizations, including embassies in Delhi, are finding it difficult to get top talent to come to the city.
“Staff with young children are increasingly choosing not to come which wasn’t the case a few years ago,” a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Most of the city’s residents are poor, however, and more worried about making enough money to buy food than pollution. (Reuters)