Usually for We are the World Blogfest, we share a positive story–one that shines light amid the darkness,
For the past two months Delhi has been in the throes of severe pollution with the Air Quality Index reaching impossible figures. This sadly happens every year around the same time due to a series of predictable factors: change in wind direction, drop in temperature, burning of crop stubble by farmers in neighbouring states, burning of crackers in the festival season and of course pollution caused by cars, construction and industrial activities and burning of garbage. All this produces a toxic cocktail and turns Delhi into a gas chamber. Sadly once things get better all is forgotten and nothing is done to ensure that things improve the next year.
So every year come October, Delhi goes into pollution mode as everyone evolves coping strategies to brave the assault.
Those who can afford it bring out air purifiers and swanky masks. Some simply leave the city. The government issues advisories that one can barely follow as few can afford to remain indoors and cease all work. Most just have to carry on our activities and hope for the best.
When things get really bad (think an AQI of 900, when less than 100 is safe) the Government kick in emergency measures: odd and even number for cars on the roads, ban on construction and industrial activities and closure of schools. As usual it is the voiceless who are the most affected. This year the authorities closed the schools on 14th November celebrated as Children’s Day. It was extremely distressing to see all arrangements go in vain. Schools remained empty, balloons and streamers fluttering in the eerie space. At Project Why we had to cancel the much awaited Sports Day much to the sorrow of all participants.
What no one realises is that closing schools does not help all children. True, the privileged ones remain within their homes in air purified spaces. But that is not the case of underprivileged children whose homes are small and polluted hovels and the child has no recourse but to ‘play’ in the open often next to revving cars. The hours s/he would have spent safely in school are now spent in the midst of pollution. And the masks distributed by the authorities remains in the school bag as NO child likes wearing a mask, and no one is there to urge them to do so. We remain open at Project Why to ensure that the children have a safe space to go.
Life does change in the time of pollution.
For the past weeks I have been driving past empty spaces, spaces where normally ad hoc labour markets emerge in the mornings with skilled and unskilled workers congregating in the hope of getting a day’s work. There are painters and carpenters, masons and plumbers and just simple labourers who wait eagerly for someone to approach them. As construction work has been stopped now for over a month these persons have got no work. Their meagre and barely existent savings have dwindled and life in the city being too expensive, many have chosen to go back to their villages waiting for the day when work will resume.This sometimes means that children are taken out of school and may not return. My heart goes out to these people who pay a heavy price for no fault of theirs.
One wonders whether it will be Action Replay in October 2020 or whether this time authorities will take some measures to preempt the situation. One can only hope and pray.
They say pollution affects the young and the old most. I shudder to think at the tiny blackened lungs of the Delhi children who will have to pay a lifelong price for having been denied to basic right to BREATHE.
A heartening piece of news in the circumstances is the invention of a device that could reduce pollution:
Given the fact that particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns is the most harmful component of air pollution, a city-based
start-up has come up with a unique device that can be attached to the exhaust pipes of vehicles to convert PM2.5 particles into coarser dust.
“Acting like a magnet, particulate pollutants get attached together and grow bigger in size becoming harmless
PM100 or PM200 particles, like soil or sand. They just fall to the ground and never enter our lungs.”
It could be a case of too little too late, and we this is only a treatment of the symptom. Much more needs to be done to beat the causes of the pollution, but in the meanwhile, let us hope this device is verified, and becomes mainstream soon!