Graded response to tackle air pollution

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The Supreme Court-backed grade system to tackle air pollution emergencies in the capital has come as a big relief to the people, especially the children
In what will come as a big relief to many who have been battling the sever onslaught of worsening pollution levels in the National Capital Region (NCR), the Union Government has come up with a new graded responsibility action plan which proposes to have in place, a pollution notification model.
According to this plan, the severity of pollutants present in the air will be put into four categories – moderate to poor, very poor, severe and very severe or emergency – and will involve issuing of appropriate advisory to people. A series of interventions will automatically be enforced to contain pollution according to the level of its severity. This plan was long overdue for a city which has acquired notoriety for being among the worst affected by pollution in the world.
Delhi and adjoining areas have reported increased incidence of diseases caused by pollution and has exposed its population to grave health risks. Beijing has a similar pollution notification model where regular colour-coded alerts are issued based on the level of toxic particles in the air.
This new plan came in the wake of deadly smoke that had engulfed the capital region, and after the apex court asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to submit a graded action plan and also sough suggestion from Centre For Science And Environment (CSE).
According to CSE, “Besides suggesting setting up of control rooms in State pollution control boards and municipal bodies of NCT Delhi, the report stressed upon the need to reduce the response time of the task force so that people’s exposure to toxic pollutants is reduced.” While ‘severe’ is the worst category of air quality index (AQI), with PM2.5 at 250 microgram per cubic meter and above and PM10 401 g/m3 and above, the ‘health emergency’ is a new addition to the list of categories. The threshold decided for this category is 300 g/m3 for PM2.5 and 500 g/m3 for PM10.
According to this plan, measures proposed for the air quality index categories of ‘severe’ and ‘very poor’ should be implemented all through the winter (October 15 to February 15). During an emergency situation, the CPCB-headed task force will have to suggest special measures to quickly bring down the air pollution levels. “The task force will meet at least once a week or daily, if necessary, during peak winter months, to review air quality status, including weather and air quality forecast,” the report said.
When the air pollution level crosses PM2.5, emergency level of 300 micrograms per cubic metre for 48 hours at a stretch, the odd-even formula for private cars can be automatically enforced and all construction activities halted. The Centre’s report also recommends banning diesel generator sets and increasing parking fee by three to four times in case of ‘very poor’ air quality, when PM2.5 is between 121 and 250. It said that schools should suspend all outdoor activities and sports events during severe and very poor levels of pollution.
In fact, elderly and children are the worst sufferers of pollution. According to a report by Unicef, Clear the Air for Children, almost one in seven of the world’s children, 300 million, live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution – six or more times higher than international guidelines. The report is based on satellite imagery to show for the first time how many children are exposed to outdoor pollution that exceeds global guidelines set by the World Health Organisation, and where they live across the globe.
“Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year – and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, while releasing the report in October this year. “Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs – they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.” The new plan offers some hope to the future of NCR children.

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