Decisive action needed to reduce air pollution - GulfToday

Decisive action needed to reduce air pollution

Pollution health 5

Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

United Nations experts have deemed air pollution a human rights violation. It’s a deadly, man-made problem responsible for some seven million premature deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The agency insists that toxic air is the world’s largest single environmental health risk and a leading cause of death by cancer.

The fact that five million masks were being distributed at schools in India’s capital, Delhi, this week after pollution made the air so toxic that officials were forced to declare a public health emergency should serve as a wake up call for the rest of the world to prevent such situations.

So much so that schools in the Indian capital will be shut until Nov.5 as residents breathed the season’s worst air for the last few days.

Government-monitored indices that track air pollution hit 500 in several parts of Delhi, the maximum recorded by the government’s Central Pollution Control Board.

The index measures the levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that goes deep into the lungs. Levels above 400 indicate severe conditions that put people with healthy lungs as well as those with respiratory illnesses at risk.

On Wednesday alone, satellites captured more than 2,400 farm fires across Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh that together contributed 35% of overall air pollution in Delhi, the highest this season, according to government-run monitor SAFAR.

Deadly air pollution can cut life expectancy by up to seven years in northern India, according to a study by Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has already declared that he will restrict the use of private vehicles on the city’s roads from next week and authorities have shut down construction activity and coal-based power plants.

The issue is far too serious to be ignored. Air pollutants are everywhere, largely caused by burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and heating, as well as from industrial activities, poor waste management and agricultural practices.

Doctors and scientists have made strides in discovering how harmful air pollution can be to health, leading to problems from heart diseases and lung cancer to neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s.

Mercifully, it is not that no one is taking action.

European and North American countries have made major strides in cleaning up the atmosphere through the implementation of an amended legally binding treaty to limit the amount of emissions polluting the air.

With 18 countries and the European Union now having ratified the amended treaty, from a total of 51 who have signed, including many of the countries which are part of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the official entry into force marks an important step to curb pollutants closely linked to climate change, ecosystem degeneration, and potentially life-threatening human health.

The Gothenburg Protocol, established back in 1999, sets forth legally-binding emissions reduction commitments for 2020 and beyond, for major air pollutants, and is rooted in the UNECE’s 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), originally intended to stop the occurrence of acid rain.

Approximately 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using polluting fuels, which add to millions of additional air pollution-related deaths, as per the World Health Organization.

All countries need to work strenuously towards meeting WHO’s global air quality guidelines to enhance the health and safety of children.

Governments should adopt measures such as reducing the over-dependence on fossil fuels in the global energy mix, investing in improvements in energy efficiency and facilitating the uptake of renewable energy sources.