Feast for Thought

Not pontificating. Only trying to bat on the side of the environment. And ethics. And simple living. And slowing down. (And trying to learn and practise before preaching or teaching...)

Friday, May 15, 2015

How many toxic time bombs?

Too many time-bombs ... it's time to update or upgrade journalists' vocabulary.

1. E-waste 
"Illegal trade is driven by the relatively low costs of shipment and the high costs of treatment in the developed countries. Quoting an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study, the UNEP report says that exporting e-waste to Asia worked out 10 times cheaper than processing it in within these countries.
The Indian subcontinent has turned into an important destination for European waste. This goes beyond e-waste to include household waste, metals, textiles and tires — which are exported to India and Pakistan, says the report “Waste Crimes, Waste Risks: Gaps and Challenges in the Waste Sector.”
“There is a significant trade in compressors to Pakistan. These should be depolluted prior to export, but waste operators seeking to avoid expense often omit this step,” the report notes.
The vast majority of illegal e-waste ends up in landfills, incinerators, and in ill-equipped recycling facilities. “The waste is dumped in areas where local residents and workers disassemble the units and collect whatever is of value... What is not reusable is simply dumped as waste, creating immense problems and leading to what has been described as a ‘toxic time bomb’.”"

2. Garbage 

"Over 6,000 tonne of plastic waste generated every day in the country remains uncollected and littered and only 60% of the more than 15,000 tonne of plastic waste is recycled daily, says a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) survey report.
The survey was on Wednesday submitted by additional solicitor general Mohan Jain before the Supreme Court that expressed shock at the pile-up of plastic waste.
“It’s frightening. We are sitting on a time bomb. All the rivers will die in the next 10 years,” noted a bench headed by Justice GS Singhvi.
The bench’s observation came during the hearing of gutka manufacturers’ plea challenging the ban on sale of pan masala containing tobacco.
Delhi tops the list in plastic waste generation. Of the 6,800 tonnes of municipal solid waste generated daily, plastic accounts for 689.52 tonnes." (source)

3. Air
"Air pollution in India has assumed endemic proportions and brooks no complacency. With a World Health Organisation study ranking Delhi as the world’s most polluted city and identifying 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities as being in India, we ought to sit up and act on a war footing.
Last year, the Environmental Preference Index ranked India 174 out of 178 countries for air quality, reflecting the dismal performance in this sector. Evidently, this has been the case for so long without our batting an eyelid.
There is a sense of apathy that is amazing, considering that our lives and our future are involved. Hardly any one takes the central and state governments to task.
It is a sad commentary on the callous attitude of our political dispensation and our persistent neglect of our environmental concerns that the data we are now planning to put out in 10 major cities has been available to us for years and we made virtually no use of it. There can be little doubt that at this rate, a time bomb is ticking away for us" (source)

4. Water
a) "...woes of Delhi Water supply ... it applies to most Indian cities. For instance, Bangalore is sitting on a water time bomb with all kinds of issues.
They point how Delhi which had good quality of water in 1950s has such poor quality now:
In the early 1950s, the quality of urban water services in Delhiwas similar to the best of other major urban centres of Asia. In fact, in 1950, shortly after the second World War, water provisioning in Delhi was better than Tokyo or Osaka. At that time, Tokyo was losing nearly 85 per cent of its water through leakages and poor maintenance. Even at the beginning of the 1960s, Delhi’s water supply was similar to that of Singapore and better than Bangkok, Manila or Phnom Penh.
Many Asian cities such as Bandar Seri Begawan, Bangkok, Colombo, Manila, Phnom Penh and Singapore have improved their water services significantly in the post-1970 period. Sadly, Delhi’s services have been on a downward spiral. Currently, all the above cities are providing their inhabitants with 24 hours of clean water that can be drunk straight from the taps. In contrast, less than two-thirds of the Delhi households are lucky to receive even one to three hours of water that is not even drinkable without additional treatment at home.
Slightly more than a decade ago, Delhi residents used simple carbon filters to purify city water before drinking. Currently, the quality has so worsened that an average Delhi household uses membranes and reverse osmosis before they can dare to drink city water.
And these RO purifiers are worsening the problem in whichever cities they are used. Nearly 50% of water is wasted in the process. 

Let us compare Singapore and Delhi, which had similar levels of water and drainage services for monsoon rains around 1960. When Singapore became independent in 1965, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew realised that water was a strategic resource for national development. Singapore formulated long-term urban water management plans, and Prime Minister Lee insisted on getting a monthly report on the progress of the water situation until he retired in 1990. In a private discussion, he told us that he had three experts in his office who regularly assessed all major development decisions through the lens of water before they could be approved.
Not surprisingly, with such high-level continuous political support, within 20 years Singapore become one of the best examples of urban water and wastewater management in the world." (source)

b) "A UN report has described India’s water pollution situation as a “time-bomb” while praising social activist Anna Hazare’s village Ralegan Siddhi for using the scarce commodity in a rationale manner.
In a stinging remark on water administration in India, the report says India is able to treat just 10 % of its city sewage and industrial waste discharge, the most polluting source for rivers and water bodies.
“Presently, only about 10% of the waste water generated is treated; the rest is discharged as is into our water bodies. Due to this, pollutants enter rivers, lakes and the groundwater,” the Unicef’s water situation in India – situation and prospects report said.
The report also said the drinking water, which ultimately ends up in our households, is often highly contaminated and carries disease-causing microbes. And, its victims are mostly children. Government studies have shown that a major cause of under-five child mortality was water-borne diseases.
The report highlighted that water source for over half of the Indians living in two major river basis — Ganga and Brahmaputra — was highly contaminated. An evidence of that was rising number of arsenic-affected areas in Bihar and West Bengal despite the government spending crore of rupees. Situation in rich agriculture areas of India’s wheat bowl — Haryana and Punjab — is no better with high pesticide contamination.
The report said there was no model in India that shows best ways to tackle the waste water generated through the industrial and domestic sectors.
“The agencies responsible for checking industrial pollution have failed. Pollution contributes to water scarcity by contaminating freshwater resources,” the report said.
The only saving grace presented in the report was example of Hazare’s village. The report said there was evidence to suggest that employing certain management principles as in Ralegan Siddhi and Hiwre Bazar can improve water situation and check contamination." (source)

5. Construction
"India's construction time bomb threatens thousands.
It's not just Delhi; decrepit constructions that don't conform to safety codes are a big problem in cities and towns across India, says Chandan Ghosh, from the Indian home ministry's National Institute of Disaster Management. He has surveyed Delhi's structures for decades, and says most break basic building regulations. He says the problem is so pervasive that enforcement has become impossible.
"Our systems are not equipped to enforce engineering standards required to build safe houses. There's a gross shortage of manpower, expertise -- and maybe will."
The Delhi residential block that caved in on June 28 was built on a plot barely 19 square yards. With no pillars or beams to support its floors, it collapsed after neighbors starting removing earth to re-build their own house.
Safety codes prescribe at least 150 square yards of land is required to construct a standard apartment, explains Ghosh.
Buildings in Indian cities are often unplanned and strung together in cramped rows, without space between them. Experts say this can be disastrous if one is more structurally vulnerable than the others. Owners of buildings often sell off parts of these buildings to individuals, who then construct extensions.
"This type of housing is not unauthorized but remains extremely dangerous," says Ghosh. "Unfortunately, it's mushrooming all over without checks and balances."
With rapid urbanization occurring since India liberalized its economy in the 1990s, New Delhi's population has grown exponentially to almost 17 million -- more than 21% in the past decade, census figures show.
To make matters worse, Indian authorities believe the Indian capital is vulnerable to seismic activity. In 1999, an 6.5 magnitude earthquake some 173 miles (280 kilometers) from Delhi caused some damage to buildings in the city, but raised fears about the potential harm from another temblor of similar intensity happening nearer. It's a "disaster waiting to happen," according to Ghosh.
According to Delhi's disaster-management department website, "Pockets with high-rise buildings or ill-designed high-risk areas exist without specific consideration of earthquake resistance. Similarly, unplanned settlements with sub-standard structures are also prone to heavy damage even in moderate shaking."
Yet people have to continue to put themselves at risk because they've nowhere else to go.
"A lethal cocktail of unethical constructions, substandard material (and) a lack of enforcement ... are endangering countless lives," says Ghosh.
"These fatal incidents happening every now and then are a warning. It's time all stakeholders, including citizens, took it seriously." " (source)

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Dilli's ills - 1. Unbreathable Air: Why this pathetic apathy?

In May 2014 a new Government assumed charge at the Centre, in India's national capital Delhi, with a brute majority. A few decades of (dysfunctional) coalition politics had the experts saying that India can no longer see single-party rule, but the voters knew better.

In Feb 2015, a new Government assumed charge in India's national capital Delhi, with a clean 'sweep' of 67 of 70 seats.

In the years prior to 2014, both the local and central governments were (mis)managed - for long - by a different crowd led by India's GOP, and the bureaucracy can still be seen to be well-tuned in that style of functioning.

In all this while, the national capital was galloping towards the position of No 1. Not in Governance. Not in Sustainability. Not in Women's Safety.

In pollution, India's national capital, far outperformed every other place in this wide wide world and beyond. Far worse than the visible pollution (vehicle exhaust, factory fumes) is the invisible killer - toxic levels of PM2.5 and PM10. ("Delhi’s grim distinction is that it has even higher levels of PM10, as well as of the smaller particulates, PM2.5, that are more likely to kill because they go deeper into the lungs. Levels of PM2.5 in Delhi are routinely 15 times above levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation. New data suggest that, on this score, Delhi’s air has been 45% more polluted than that of the Chinese capital for the past couple of years".)

With a brute majority, even possibly populated with several 'brutes', the central and local governments, between them, have the power
- to curb the irrational, far-beyond-the-city's-capacity proliferation of vehicles,
- to regulate polluting industries, including under-performing, but toxic power plants
- to enforce staggering o working hours
- to aggressively improve and impose means of public transportation
- to take the people into confidence, work with citizen groups, RWA's and NGO's to make the process of implementation of tough measures appear less brutal.

And the people of Delhi? Other than history buffs and those who respect land, water, nature, clean air - wherever they live - Delhi is populated by people who haven't lost any love on their monster city ("MONSTROCITY"). They spit, they love their polythene and polystyrene, they consume like gluttons (Amrica does too, you see), their pets suffer from obesity, they own their roads.. (Oh the sense of ownership of the roads - Delhiites, both citizens and law-keepers fiercely defend their rights on road usage).

Delhi after all has a history of 'takers', hardly any 'givers', whether it is Lutyen's Delhi, or any of the 2000+ illegal colonies, or any of the bizarre sub-cities and satellite townships that mushroomed during the past couple of decades, in the name of Holy Progress and Pious Development.

With no one to heed the voice of the environment, a minuscule number of concerned citizens, individually or through support groups, notably the NGT, have been trying to raise the common issue of air  pollution - which of course affects the 'cursed' have-nots in far worse ways then the 'blessed' haves. 

What do the power-wielders say? It is easy to gauge attitudes from the responses.

  • Sheila Dikshit, who was the chief minister of Delhi from 1998-2013, said, “You have to understand that there are various lobbies. If auto manufacturers have buyers, for them it looks unfair that we are stopping their growth. On the other hand, the air quality has become worse. Unless there’s a collective decision and the lobbies come together for the good of the people, nothing can be done. I find it a little disappointing. We have been through it, innumerable meetings with the lobbies. Because we, the people of Delhi, were the most disturbed by it.” (source)
  • Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar: It is good that the media is highlighting the issue. This would force local authorities to take urgent action to curb pollution. (source)(emphasis added)
  •  AAP is committed to work for the well being of the people and our country. Every issue is important to us. Although pollution does not feature in Delhi dialogues, we are committed to look into this serious issue.  Sure, we will take inputs from all concerned departments and take appropriate steps to bring down pollution levels. Team AAP

What the media says:

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