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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2127

It’s Smog And It’s More Than What We Know

By Ishaal Zehra

Since the first war of independence against British raj ended in 1857, Lahore and New Delhi were never seen on the same page again except now, in a fight against a common opponent, SMOG!

SMOG has been alleged for deaths of more than half a million Pakistanis and Indians each year. Lately, when a Pakistani meteorologist checked the air-quality of Lahore, it turned out that the level of the dangerous particulate known as PM 2.5 had attained a degree more than 30 times what Pakistan’s government considers the safe limit. While the situation is alarming, the problem is not limited to this city only. Delhi isn’t too different either, hardly any visibility after a couple of hundred meters was observed during the peak of smog season. In fact, owing to the forest fires in Borneo and Sumatra which created a thick cloud of smoke (that multiplied with the city’s respective level of pollution to form smog), whole of South Asia has been capitulated to this hazardous smog for the past few years.

In the recent past, India was derided globally when the world saw the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team wearing masks during a test match at New Delhi. Sri Lankan lions were seen gasping, crumpling and complaining to match officials during their test match not because of exertion but the noxious haze that shrouded the Indian capital. Play was halted for more than 15 minutes after Sri Lanka lodged an apparent protest at hazardous pollution levels. Gaging the situation, the ICC issued a statement saying, "the ICC has noted the conditions in which the Delhi Test was played and has already requested the issue is considered by the medical committee for guidance should the situation arise in future." The controversy will also be discussed at an International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting in February, asserted ICC.

While New Delhi and other South Asian countries hit new peaks of toxic smog, the United Nations raised the alarm over the damage that pollution is doing to infants’ brain development. Satellite imagery was used to assess pollution levels around the world and it was awful to find that South Asian countries accounted for 12.2 million of the total number of affected children. Concerned by the developing state, the UN’s children’s agency, UNICEF, said Asia accounts for more than 16 million of the world’s 17 million infants under 1 year old living in areas with severe pollution, which is classified as at least six times higher than the threshold considered unsafe. India topped the list of countries with babies at risk, followed by China, held the UNICEF report.

UNICEF also highlighted the growing risk from minute particles of the iron ore magnetite, which is increasingly found in urban pollution. The nanoparticles, which easily get into the bloodstream, are highly dangerous to the brain because of their magnetic charge and have also been linked to degenerative diseases. The author of the “Danger in the Air” report, Nicholas Rees, said that toxic pollution is “impacting children’s learning, their memories, linguistic and motor skills.”

In 2014, World Health Organization (WHO) classed New Delhi as the world's most polluted capital, with air quality levels worse than Beijing. The study revealed that New Delhi had PM 2.5 at concentrations of 153 micrograms as compared to 56 micrograms over Beijing, which long held the title for the world’s most polluted city. Science and Development Network, Not-for-profit organization, believe that even though Beijing and other cities have been proactively addressing the problem of air pollution, the same cannot be said for New Delhi.

Asserting in the same breath, Vox (an American news and opinion website) featured that the uniqueness about Delhi’s smog is that the smoke from the crop burning in the neighboring states of the city is mixing with pollution inside the city — from construction, vehicles, and fires the poor use to cook and keep warm. This mix of rural and urban pollution intensifies in the winter months. Further, the North Indian topography also acts as a basin that traps pollution — making it impossible for the millions of people in the region to escape the toxic air. It is why there are now reports of reverse migration: People retreating from Delhi to rural areas outside the pollution zone so they can breathe cleaner air.

Jason West, an environmental engineer at the University of North Carolina, noted that cities in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan also struggled with deadly air pollution back in 1950’s, but the air has cleared as these regions became wealthier, invested in cleaner technologies, and citizens called for stricter regulations on emissions. “Economic development was important, but economic development by itself didn’t solve the problem,” opined West. “People demanded cleaner air and cleaner water.”

The impact of this hazard is not limited to intense breathing diseases only but it is far than worse for every country in this region. As for both Pakistan and India, one of the solutions to this problem would be to join hands and minds together to straighten out this mess. But collaboration amongst the two neighbours who have been in a testy relation at best since independence is something hard to swallow. Additionally, India’s domestic political considerations also make the collaboration between the two rivals virtually impossible.

Leaving us with the only option to believe the environmentalists who say that any sort of rain would be beneficial and might even clear up the smog on its own.

- Asian Tribune -

It’s Smog And It’s More Than What We Know
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