2 cities and 2 ways of moving forward against smog

Click to enlargeAltaf Qadri, AP

Two cities. Two very polluted cities. And two very different ways of dealing with twin public health crises.

When Beijing’s air was forecast to reach hazardous levels for three straight days earlier in December, the government issued a smog red alert. The result: Half the city’s cars were off the roads within hours, schools were closed and construction sites shut down. Less than three days later, pollution levels had dropped by 30 percent.

When New Delhi’s winter air grew so bad that a high court warned that “it seems like we are living in a gas chamber,” the city’s top official declared that cars would be restricted starting Jan. 1, with odd and even license plates taking turns on the roads. But police officials quickly announced they hadn’t been consulted, and said they’d have trouble enforcing the rule. Plus, no one could fully explain how the already overstretched public transit system could absorb millions of additional commuters overnight.

So, well, maybe the whole plan will be scrapped…

Long famous for its toxic air, Beijing is struggling to lose that reputation, bowing to pressure from a growing middle class to keep pollution under control. Traffic is regularly restricted in the city, factories have been moved and the central government is anxious to ratchet down the country’s use of coal-burning power plants.

And New Delhi, which by many measures now has far more polluted air than Beijing? So far, the environmental court — which has only quasi-legal powers — has ordered that no diesel cars be registered in the city for the next few weeks, and has discouraged the government from buying diesels for government fleets. Officials, meanwhile, have suggested everything from car-free days to planting more trees to dedicated bus lanes.

It amounts to little more than vague promises, and is resulting in increasingly angry headlines…

❝”In China, whenever you talk about PM2.5 (one of the most dangerous forms of airborne particulate matter), everybody knows what that is, it’s pollution. But once you raise the same questions in Delhi, it seems like not many people care about that. And yet, the level of pollution in Delhi is more than five times” higher than in Beijing, said Yann Boquillod, a longtime Beijing resident who co-founded Air Visual, a startup that crunches pollution data and weather information to predict air quality…

In China, an authoritarian system makes policy changes much more straightforward than in India, where a chaotic and widely corrupt government makes it easier for polluters to avoid regulations.

China has made a very serious and concerted effort to fight air pollution in the past few years,” said Lauri Myllyvitra, Greenpeace’s global campaigner on coal. She said Beijing’s success came when it realized the problem had to be addressed regionally, not just in the city.

“Our greatest hope is that India will not waste a decade trying to address a regional problem locally … but will move much faster to put in place regional action plans for cleaner energy sources and fuels, as well as meaningful emission standards and enforcement,” she said…

Our politicians learned long ago to describe serious questions in political terms instead of economics. You can fuss with the former for decades without actually changing anything. So, India is described as a great democracy while that nation’s corruption has surpassed China – while China has moved in the other direction to begin to counter historically-accepted levels of corruption.

But, much of the difference remains economic. Though it may take Beijing as long as London or Los Angeles to overcome smog problems, China can afford to make the needed changes. India can’t. Not yet. They will need assistance whether their politicians care to admit it or not.

Indian women claim a right to pee

Women in India, assailing the lack of public toilets available to them, have begun a Right to Pee Campaign…

The humorous slogan, coined by the Mumbai, India, media, masks the dependence of the population on public restrooms, and the imbalance of men’s rooms to those available to women, The New York Times said Thursday.

A government study indicated the public sanitation system of the city, whose population is 20 million, offers 5,993 toilets and 2,466 urinals to men, and only 3,536 toilets to women, and a 2009 study in New Delhi, the capital, said the ratio of men-to-women public conveniences was 1,534 to 132.

Activists like Minu Gandhi said the restroom disparity amounts to discrimination, and have suggested women begin demanding their right to equal access…”We all feel this is a basic civic right, a human right,” she said.

The newspaper added that Mumbai’s toilets are generally located in dark and unclean buildings, and operate as male-controlled outposts, with a male attendant often collecting fees for toilet use, but not for urinals.

Local politicians vow to respond — as they do to almost daily requests for simple access to civilized essentials like food, water and sanitation.

India’s claim to be the largest democracy in Asia sounds pretty hollow when you take a close look at the class structure perpetuated by self-serving politicians and greedy corporations. It needn’t be that way. The latest government always admits that — after each election cycle. But, little seems to get done.

New Delhi, is now more polluted than Beijing

India has recently pulled far ahead of China on one dubious development marker – air pollution in the country’s capital.

The air quality in New Delhi now often measures significantly worse than the air quality in Beijing, according to real-time air monitors run by the Indian and U.S. governments in both cities.

New Delhi, a landlocked, fast-growing metropolis of more than 16 million people, is regularly shrouded by haze and smog (sometimes euphemistically referred to as fog) in winter months, as barometric pressure and cooler air mix with construction dust, smoke from cow dung fires and car exhaust, which then hover over the city for days.

But this year, the air quality in New Delhi has seemed noticeably worse than previous years as the summer heat dissipates…

Cooling temperatures are trapping air pollution created by a rising number of cars, which is being supplemented by dusty winds from the northwest, said G. Beig, the program director of the air monitoring program at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology…

A database recently published by the World Health Organization also shows New Delhi with higher pollution levels than Beijing, but that database relies on official government figures. Beijing’s government has been criticized for down-playing the city’s pollution problems, and recently began tours of its air monitoring facilities.

The air quality both places doth verily suck. In truth, China has proven to be spending a higher portion of the national budget on fighting pollution than India – and many Western nations that were finally pushed into action a century or more after the industrial revolution.

Smart monkeys use automatic doors to get into hospital

One of the miscreants

Monkeys are threatening to overrun India’s top hospital after learning how to operate the newly-installed automatic doors.

Doctors at the flagship All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi said the horde of red-bottomed rhesus macaque monkeys – who have roamed the sprawling campus for decades – had figured out how to let themselves into wards through motion-sensor doors.

The compromised wards include the neurosurgery department and nearby patient recovery rooms, which the monkeys often invade, snatching food, terrorising medical staff and playing around with sensitive equipment.

They also creating bedlam outside one of the operation theatres, and when chased away by the hospital security staff hide themselves in the false ceiling only to re-emerge when the coast was clear to continue their chaotic activity.

Some of these monkeys make their way into the wards. At least one monkey bite case is reported in the hospital every week,” Debjyoti Karmakar head of the resident doctors association said yesterday.

AIIMS spokesman Y K Gupta, said that the hospital had hired two grey langurs – another larger breed of monkey – to chase the marauding macaque monkeys away from the wards and residential areas…

The Delhi High court too has passed several orders to rid the capital of the monkey menace but to little avail.

Of course not. Monkeys rarely read the legal section of Delhi newspapers.

Caught in ‘women only’ train carriage – men forced to do sit-ups

A group of male commuters travelling in a women-only carriage on New Delhi’s metro system were ordered to do sit-ups on the platform by the furious female passengers.

At least one carriage is reserved for women on every metro train in the Indian capital, where female residents and tourists have complained about sexual harassment on public transport for decades.

The metro has also become severely congested with the lines expanding into the suburbs over the last year and most regular carriages packed to capacity.

Police on Saturday led a crackdown of men using women’s carriages at a station in Gurgaon, a satellite development on the outskirts of Delhi, after a series of complaints – and women passengers joined in the action.

The offending commuters were made to pay a fine of 250 rupees while angry women slapped some of them and forced them to do sit-ups.

Har! That’s a genuine “Gotcha!”