New Delhi breathless as people take to streets to demand clean air

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Buildings are seen shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, October 30, 2019. (Reuters)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
Updated 06 November 2019

New Delhi breathless as people take to streets to demand clean air

  • India’s national capital and its adjoining areas have been under a blanket of toxic smog for almost two weeks
  • On Tuesday, hundreds of people protested in Delhi against the escalating pollution

NEW DELHI: It is more than 15 days since Sunieta Ojha’s two children and husband began complaining of a persistent cough and congestion in the heart.
They have stopped going out and bought three air purifiers to protect themselves from the air pollution that has engulfed New Delhi and the National Capital Territory (NCR).
A lawyer by profession, Ojha has been facing the tough task of taking care of three sick people while ensuring her professional life remains unaffected.
“My kids, who are 10 and 5 years old, keep on coughing and feel uncomfortable the whole day. They cannot step out and play. Life has become very suffocating for us,” Ojha said.
“The NCR has turned into a gas chamber where people have no other option but to suffer,” she told Arab News.
India’s national capital and its adjoining areas have been under a blanket of toxic smog for almost two weeks. The Air Quality Index (AQI) has exceeded the 500 mark regularly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the AQI should not exceed more than 60. This year has been the worst for the past three years.
The air quality in Delhi improved on Wednesday. However, it still remains in a hazardous zone.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people protested in Delhi against the escalating pollution and asked the government to intervene to address the issue.
“I have never bothered about pollution in life. I have been busy in my professional life. But that was a mistake. I realize that something needs to be done to address the issue of air pollution because it affects everyone’s life and I tried mobilizing people through my social media posts,” said Shuchir Suri, one of the main organizers behind mobilizing citizens on the issue of pollution.
“It is a movement for clean air. This is happening globally, and this should happen in India also. Clean India starts with clean air. People want a change now in the way we look at environmental pollution,” Suri said.
Last week the Delhi government declared a public health emergency and ordered the shutting of schools until Nov. 6. It distributed four million masks in schools.
It has also introduced a car-rationing system in Delhi for ten days from Nov. 3-14, in which cars with odd and even number plates would use the roads on alternate days.
The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up central and the local government for not doing enough to address the issue of pollution. It ordered the cessation of all construction and demolition activities in Delhi. It also asked the neighboring states of Panjab and Haryana to stop the burning of farm stubbles, which environmentalists believe is one of the major causes of the toxic smog at the onset of winter in Delhi.
Dr. Loveleen Mangla, of Metro Hospital and Cancer Institute, said: “Bad air can damage your lungs, it causes bronchitis. If the air quality is bad then particulate matter or PM 2.5 can enter the heart through the lungs and also cause heart attacks.”
He said that in the past month there had been an huge increase in the number of patients visiting him with respiratory problems.
“In the prevailing situation, it would be difficult for patients to get back to normal life. The medication can subside the problem for the time being but it cannot cure,” Mangla told Arab News.
“Air purifiers and masks do not really address the issue. These are short-term measures. They are more for the psychological satisfaction of the people. Patients cannot remain confined to home all the time,” he said.
Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha, who runs an NGO called Swechha that advocates a clean environment, said: “It’s the collective failure of the central and the state government and all the wings of the executive that a problem which affects the lives of so many people remains neglected year after year.”
“The public health emergency that India has needs to be looked at from the 360-degree angle, not just 60 degrees. It cannot be looked at as a November-December issue; the air quality has to be addressed keeping in mind the whole year,” Jha told Arab News.
“I am disappointed that so many years have passed and still the problem is lingering. There is no way out but to find out a solution.”
He said that Delhi and the NCR have 10 million vehicles and the Delhi master plan says that almost 80 percent of the people should be using public transport, but this is not the case. “Right now, only one fourth of the total population of 40 million is using public transport. So the region needs robust public transport and facilities to address last-mile connectivity.”


Davos session examines Indian Ocean Rim’s strategic outlook

Updated 15 sec ago

Davos session examines Indian Ocean Rim’s strategic outlook

Jumana Khamis DUBAI: Technology and sustainable practices will increase investment opportunities in countries of the Indian Ocean Rim, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, heard on its opening day.
The observation was made by Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO of DP World, during a panel discussion on Tuesday entitled “Strategic Outlook: The Indian Ocean Rim.”
The session examined the strategic priorities of a vital region that is home to 2.7 billion people and sees two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments — and half of all container ships -pass through its waters.
Sulayem said he wanted to see more cargo traffic between countries and fewer rules and regulations that create barriers to free trade.
“In our business we look at how to increase cargo,” he said. “One percent in GDP growth results in three percent increase in cargo,” in addition to higher employment.
Talking about DP’s investments in India, Sulayem said the company has poured a total of $2 billion into the country’s infrastructure sector, in projects such as double-stack train, cold-storage facilities and logistics parks in the last two years.
“We are interested in investing more in India’s infrastructure and we believe there is a lot of growth prospects in the country,” he said.
Sulayem said India’s regulatory regime was partly responsible for the slow development of the country’s infrastructure.
“It is encouraging that the current political dispensation has done away with many legacy issues,” he said. “When you see their vision, (it is clear) they want to adopt tomorrow’s technologies for today’s (applications).”
Sulayem said he felt improving the investment climate is a top priority for the present Indian government.
On a global level, he said given the rapid pace of technological developments, automation everywhere will increase the number and quality of jobs.
“This is the age of the brain. It is all about the new ideas people can come up with and deploy,” he said. “If you have ideas, you make more money.”
Sulayem pointed out that phones, TVs and other devices are no longer made by humans, but instead made by machines that are built by humans.
Participating in the same session, Piyush Goyal, the Indian Minister of Railways and Commerce and Industry, admitted that improving the country’s regulatory framework has long been a challenge for the government.
“Foreign investment is hesitant to come to India because of concerns over how the government functions, how licenses are issued, and whether there is fair opportunity,” he said.
“But we have made a conscious decision we would like India to be recognized across the world as an honest nation. We would like to come into the league of nations where everyone can come and do transparent business, where equal opportunity is provided for all.”
During what he called the transition phase, “short term pain” is bound to be felt by Indians, Goyal said, adding that this is a process the nation is ready for.
Arguing that India had allowed energy to be imported without significant efforts to tap into its own natural resources, he said: “This is another area of focus as we are looking to try and make India more attractive and self- sufficient.”
If there is a buzzword at the Davos forum this year, it is undoubtedly sustainability. Addressing the topic, Mathias Cormann, Australia’s Minister for Finance, said his country is strongly committed to effective action against climate change.
The aim of Australia is to not only “meet” but “beat” the emission-reduction targets set by the Kyoto Protocol, he said.
“We will reduce out emissions by more than 400 million tons of carbon dioxide. We are on track — and have the policies in place to meet that,” Cormann said.
As for trade, currently five out of Australia’s 15 top trading partners are in the Indian Ocean Rim and 90 percent of its exports are transported by ship, out of which half travel through the Indian Ocean, he said.
Furthermore, “30 percent of the people in the world live in the Indian Ocean Rim countries, yet we are only responsible for 11 percent of global trade,” Cormann said.
Commenting on the convergence of trade and the environment, Sulayem said a common misconception among companies around the world is that that adopting eco-friendly business practices is costly.
“It actually saves money,” he said. “In our ports we have done away with all the diesel used in equipment and we use electricity. We have changed all the bulbs to LED.
“We recovered the cost of the change in one year” through energy savings.
In this context, Sulayem praised the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) decision to enforce rules that require the marine sector to reduce sulfur emissions by over 80 percent by switching to “green (low-sulfur) fuels.”