Our choking cities: How we can improve air and water quality in urban spaces

Source: The post is based on the following articles

“Our choking cities: How we can improve air and water quality in urban spaces” published in the Indian Express on 10th November 2022.  

“Reduce year-round pollutants to make Delhi’s air less hazardous” published in Livemint on 10th November 2022.  

Syllabus: GS 3 – Environmental pollution and degradation.

Relevance: About India’s air and water pollution.

News: Recently, in Delhi, pollution-related curbs were lifted and schools opened, despite air quality continues to be in the “very poor” category.

About air and water pollution in India
PM 2.5 levels
Source: The Hindu

Air pollution: More than 1,10,000 infants are likely to have been killed by air pollution in India in 2019. Long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution was estimated to be responsible for about 1.67 million annual deaths amongst the adult population in the country.

Water pollution: The Central Pollution Control Board reckons that more than 50 per cent of 351 river stretches (on 323 rivers) are polluted. About 72% of urban sewage is untreated in India’s urban freshwater bodies.

What needs to be done to reduce air and water pollution in India?

A massive improvement in public bus services: Public bus services must procure services from private operators on structured contracts, b) Special services to the airport, railway stations, employment hubs and local circulators will help bring down the extent of personal motor-vehicle use.

Deployment of clean technologies: electric mobility must be taken forward aggressively. For instance, electric buses can be significantly cheaper than diesel/CNG options so they needed to be procured more.

Infrastructure upgrades for non-motorized modes of conveyance: It needs a safer infrastructure for cycling and walking. India should develop pedestrian and bicycle masterplans to ensure that walking and cycling in urban spaces become safe and pleasant is essential.

A plan to reduce travel demand: This can be done by a) Improving online delivery of public services, b) Mixed land-use planning to reduce trip lengths, c) Encourage policy and support to work from home or shop online options and d) Commercial and residential areas should be co-located

Increase green cover across urban areas: For instance, Ahmedabad’s municipal corporation using the Miyawaki technique has more than urban forests. Chandigarh has about 1,800 parks. Close to 46% of the city was classified as a green area in 2019.

Read more: About winter pollution in Delhi: Severe policy lapse

Involve more Civil society: In Chennai an NGO has been able to grow 25 Miyawaki forests, raising over 65,000 trees. Such plantations are now being replicated in other cities including Tuticorin, Vellore and Kanchipuram. This can be done in other Indian cities as well.

Implement globally successful airshed management systems: a) In the US, the passage of the Air Quality Act (1967) saw the state of California being divided into 35 districts and pollution was regulated at the state level. This approach was successful in reducing emissions by 98% from 2010 to 2019, b) London’s air pollution revolution has initiated an Ultra Low Emission zone in Central London. It has a hefty daily fee on cars that emit more than 75g/km of pollution.

Protect water and riverine pollution: India needs to adopt a systems-based approach along with a push for protecting “blue infra” areas — places that act as natural sponges for absorbing surface runoff, allowing groundwater to be recharged.

At the household level, India needs to encourage rainwater harvesting, urban roof terrace greening, urban roof water retention tanks and green corridor around residential buildings.

At the city level and beyond, policymakers should push for “sponge cities” and incorporate disaster planning.

For example, Mangalore’s City Corporation (MCC) has wastewater treatment plants with end-user linkages. The MCC offered to supply treated water to such industrial end-users in the city’s special economic zone if the latter agreed to fund about 70% of the operations and maintenance cost of the pumps and the sewage treatment plant.

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