We Breathe the Same Air – So Why the Fuss? — Shashi Tharoor opens #RoundtableConsultation

How come we allow ourselves to put our own lungs in the gas chamber? Think of all the changes that you have seen the environment facing and then try imagining the future.

Yesterday, New Delhi — following up with the June 2017, discussion on the dimensions of the current air quality crisis in India and the possibility of a collaborative partnership to address this issue — opened  2nd edition of the roundtable seeking to convene a wider spectrum of stakeholders representing government, NGOs, academia, media, and industry to deliberate upon the creation of a National Action Plan on air quality.

We keep talking of India’s demographic dividend, but it seems that the engine of our future economic growth is gasping for breath. — Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, Chairman, Observer Research Foundation 

The opening was well attained and the 2nd day, 26th July 2018, the convention is going on right now.

Here's what Dr Shashi Tharoor has wriiten on the poison that we inhale, read it along with a few photographs that I could take yesterday.

Bharat R Tiwari  

The challenges we face in asserting the #Right2Breathe — Shashi Tharoor 

Toxic air is a silent killer, and today in India, the air we breathe has in itself become a public health crisis

In July 2017, I had brought together a group of civil society stakeholders, healthcare experts and practitioners, technical experts and fellow Parliamentarians, to a closed-door discussion on the magnitude of the current crisis of toxic air quality across India.

Ozone-related deaths in India has risen by a staggering 150%

The discussions dealt not only with the current state of air quality, but also extended to deliberations on what we could possibly do — as concerned citizens and elected representatives — to create a National Action Plan to address this issue.

And here’s why:
We Breathe the Same Air – So Why the Fuss?

In November, 2017 when Delhi was choking—the question came up again: Was it only air pollution or something else?
It was something else. It was the stubble burning as well as the major dust storm that started due to the Syria and Iran conflicts.— Anand Sharma, Chairman, Parliamentary Committee on Environment

The 2017 State of the Global Air report published by the Health Effects Institute, revealed that since 1990, the absolute number of ozone-related deaths in India has risen by a staggering 150 percent. The economic implications of deteriorating air quality are equally ominous as well, with a 2013 World Bank study estimating that welfare costs and lost labour income due to air pollution, cost the exchequer nearly 8.5 percent of India’s GDP. Labour losses due to air pollution (in terms of number of man days lost for instance) resulted in a reported loss of USD 55.39 billion in a single year.

The gravity of the toxicity was visible in the well aware crowd represented by a large number of young generation.

Further, premature deaths cost the country an estimated USD 505 billion or roughly 7.6 percent of our country’s GDP. In other words, toxic air is a silent killer, and today in India, the air we breathe has in itself become a public health crisis — one that is slowly, but surely crippling our country.

The issue of air quality is, politically, similar to concerns surrounding our foreign policy. I have previously remarked that there is no BJP or Congress foreign policy — only an Indian foreign policy. So too with air quality — our political differences on the subject must end at the beginning of the stratosphere. There is only an Indian air quality and currently, little has been done to address the toxicity that is spreading.

#AirPollution in India is seen as a winter issue.But the reality of toxic air is an everyday tragedy. It's not too late to fix the problem.Calling experts,CSOs &concerned citizens to join me& @orfonline @AirQualityAsia dialogue. #Right2Breathe — Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament

Chinese National Air Pollution Action Plan: the fight for improved air quality is not a lost cause.
But it is a problem that can still be addressed if the right kind of sustained campaign, one that focuses on practical long-term and short-term interventions to address the issue, is realised. Take for example China's action on air quality in 2013 — at the peak of toxicity in its air and with public scrutiny mounting in the wake of the Beijing Olympics, China formulated the National Air Pollution Action Plan, which imposed stringent controls on emissions and strict guidelines for air quality checks. China’s air quality strategy since, albeit, still in an incipient stage, has shown promising potential — and a valuable lesson, that the fight for improved air quality is not a lost cause.

Dr Tharoor and Gurjeet Singh Aujla, member of Parliament for Amritsar

At the same time, India must recognise that it is not China.
We are after all, a democracy, where even the smallest voice matters, and where the means is just as important as the end — there is an underlying commitment, that we take everyone along in our journey.

India has officially shown considerable commitment and willingness to address these issues in the past — as the new National Clean Air Programme demonstrates, as well as on the world stage, with the Copenhagen Agreement and more recently, the Paris Agreement.

Many parliamentarians attended the Consultaton

However, given the magnitude of the problem, the pace of action in protecting the environment, is found wanting. What then must be the principal guiding light of the action plan we would like to see in India?

(Former UN under-secretary-general, Shashi Tharoor is a Congress MP and an author. He can be reached @ShashiTharoor. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. this blog neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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