India launches new bid to battle dirty air

Toxic air was responsible for 1.24 million premature deaths in India in 2017 according to a study published last year in Lancet Planetary Health. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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India launches new bid to battle dirty air

  • Environmental groups autiously welcomed the announcement
  • ‘The plan was long overdue and is a great step forward but we need to have clarity on targets and accountability’

NEW DELHI: India has launched a new campaign to improve air quality in more than 100 of its pollution-stricken cities, although an environment group said it lacked detail and the legal backing to ensure it is enforced.
Air quality in the country of more than 1.25 billion people has deteriorated to critical levels in recent years, with the capital New Delhi and 13 other Indian cities in the top 15 of a UN list of the world’s most polluted cities.
Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan said late Thursday the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) will cover 102 cities and aim to cut levels of the most dangerous particles under 10 microns in diameter by 20 to 30 percent by 2024.
The particles are blamed for growing numbers of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease in Indian cities.
The government has allotted three billion rupees ($42 million) to implement the plan which aims to plug the main pollution sources — industrial and traffic emissions, the mass burning of agricultural waste and construction — without setting out how this will be done.
Vardhan said only that the NCAP would carry out “comprehensive mitigation actions for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.”
Environmental groups, who have long accused the government of dragging its feet in the battle against pollution, cautiously welcomed the announcement.
“The plan was long overdue and is a great step forward but we need to have clarity on targets and accountability,” Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner for Greenpeace India, said.
“We hoped it would be much stronger in providing sector wise targets, specific targets for cities and mention strong legal backing to take action for non-implementation.”
The initiative will also increase pollution monitoring and raise public awareness of the dangers.
India only has around 40 real-time pollution monitoring stations across the country, leaving huge blank spots where the population is unaware of any potential air pollution.
Toxic air was responsible for 1.24 million premature deaths in India in 2017 according to a study published last year in Lancet Planetary Health, which also said tens of millions of people face serious heath risks.
Delhi’s 20 million inhabitants suffer an annual blanket of poisonous smog in winter months when farmers in neighboring regions burn rice and wheat stubble.


Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return

Updated 20 June 2019
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Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return

  • Muted celebrations in crowded Bangladesh camps, home to 1.1m Myanmar exiles
  • Cox’s Bazar — site of the world’s largest refugee settlement — observed the day with programs and festivities

COX’S BAZAR: More than 1.1 million Rohingya exiles in heavily congested camps at Cox’s Bazar observed UN World Refugee Day on Thursday despite continuing uncertainty over their return to Myanmar. 

Since 2000, UNHCR has observed June 20 as World Refugee Day and this year appealed to participants to “take a step with refugees around the world.” 

War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are the main causes of refugees fleeing their countries, with two-thirds of all exiles worldwide coming from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

Cox’s Bazar — site of the world’s largest refugee settlement — observed the day with programs and festivities, although there is still no sign of an end to the Rohingya plight. 

A colorful rally at Kutupalang camp was attended by US envoy Earl Miller, UNHCR country representative Steven Corliss and government officials. Later, dignitaries met with Rohingya community leaders and discussed their demands. 

About 750,000 Rohingya have fled their northern Rakhine homeland since August 2017 when a so-called “clearance operation” orchestrated by the Myanmar military forced them to take shelter at Kutupalang camps in Cox’s Bazar. 

In 1977 and 1978, about 200,000 Rohingya sought refuge in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar. 

Between 1989 and 1991, an additional 250,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal that led to thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine. 

The Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh resumed in 2016 when a military crackdown followed an attack on a border post in which several police offers were killed. About 87,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh. 

A repatriation deal was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar in late 2017, but not a single Rohingya returned. 

Finally, Nov. 15, 2018, was agreed as the new date to start repatriation, but the Rohingya said that conditions made it impossible for them to return. 

Recent violence in Rakhine between the Myanmar military and a militant Buddhist group has cast fresh doubts on the refugees returning in the near future. 

The Rohingya exodus has changed the demographic of Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar. 

In 2011, around 500,000 people lived in the two areas. Now more than double that number of Rohingya refugees shelter there, turning the host community into a minority. 

The Bangladesh government and UN aid agencies together asked for $920 million to run humanitarian operations in the camps this year. But only a quarter of this amount has been raised. 

Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said that authorities are hoping for an increase in funding in coming days. 

“Some big donors such as the EU, UK, Japan and so on are yet to come up with their pledges. I believe it will happen soon and humanitarian operations here at Cox’s Bazar will not decline,” he told Arab News.