The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.
This summer, Delhi witnessed the cleanest air in the last eight years. To the delight of residents, politicians, and environmental advocates, Delhi Pollution Control Committee reported the average air pollution level in the first seven months of the year have been the lowest, compared to the corresponding period of previous years since 2012. A few months later, Delhi’s air quality has, again, dropped significantly. The level of air pollution has recently become so extreme that the Supreme Court-mandated panel, Environmental Pollution Authority, declared a public health emergency in the Delhi-NCR region, putting in restrictions and shutting schools down until November 5.
The first step towards solving a problem is recognizing the problem. Thus, it is essential to realize the most polluted capital in the world is Delhi. In India, 1.2 million people die every year due to air pollution and it is urgent to look for a permanent solution to this problem.
The way Mexico dealt with the dangerous level of pollution in Mexico City can serve as a case study for India’s pollution emergency. The country itself is comparable to India’s level of technological resources and wealth. Case studies of the United States, United Kingdom, or Japan are not good indicators since the development surrounding these countries are vastly different. Mexico is a developing country like India. The sources of air pollution affecting Mexico City Metropolitan Area can be found in Delhi today. Mexico City found success in fighting air pollution with limited resources and should be a model for Delhi.
In 1992, the United Nations declared Mexico City the most polluted city on Earth. Since then it has steadily reduced pollution levels and elevated the issue to an important political stance in Mexico. The public is engaged and the government has had to take accountability regarding environmental protection. The civil society, scientists, technical experts all came together to force the government to take concrete steps.
Today, Delhi should take the following steps adopted by Mexico City to curb air pollution:
- Install a high-level data center using modern technology to monitor pollution and provide information on a real-time basis.
- Create a system through which people are informed as soon as air pollution levels rise above a set danger level and, if necessary, declare an environmental emergency.
- Develop a high-quality public transport system, with the main goal focused on people’s trend movements, rather can vehicular movement.
- Engage industry leaders and technical experts to draft sustainable plans to minimize emissions by using new dimensions of science and modern technology.
- Enact stringent laws regarding biomass burning and curb its use through innovative government initiatives.
Dr. Beatriz Kardenaz, an environmental expert from Mexico, when asked why Mexican politicians had to be so vigilant about environmental protections, she responded that people in the area vote for them on the issue of the environment. The value citizens place in environmental protection policies was seen when the government was forced to act following an environmental emergency. Civilians mobilized its several citizens groups to cause an uproar that could not be ignored.
On May 14, 2019, Mexico City declared an Environmental Emergency due to the air being so excessively contaminated it caused problems in residents’ breathing. In Mexico City, this had not happened in decades. However, since Mexico City has a robust system of monitoring pollution and alerting people, the hazardous condition could not prove fatal even in such a sudden event. According to the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines, the amount of delicate particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, per day should be below 25 micrograms per cubic meter. That day in Mexico City, the amount of PM 2.5 in the air rose to 158 micrograms per cubic meter, as measured by a local station at 5 am. It was immediately directed that all residents should remain in their homes, keeping their windows and doors shut.
India has a long history of environmental protection and legislation but its continuous lack of action for the issue has resulted in a drastically high level of air pollution in Delhi. It is time to take lessons from Mexico City and save more than 1.2 million people in the country dying annually due to air pollution. If the result-oriented team works with a concise, targeted approach, then such a result can be derived, which will bring a change in the life of the common people.
If Mexico can save the lives of more than 20,000 people in the last 25 years, then India can do it as well. Today in India, we have to make a resolution that the coming generation will get to see a blue sky and breathe clean air.
Note: Reference has been taken from my article in Hindi published on ‘The Print’ in India.