Can Delhi save itself from its toxic air? Nature.com

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Meera Subramanian writes about the unique challenges faced by the  world’s most polluted megacity and how it (Delhi) is “scrambling to tackle epic pollution problems.”

“…Delhi, like Beijing, Mexico City, London and Los Angeles, is struggling to reduce pollution, even as its population swells. Researchers and the government are trying to construct a detailed breakdown of the different pollution sources, and authorities are experimenting with ways to mitigate the damage, from restricting when people can drive to shutting down power plants. But India faces unique challenges. Its population is concentrated in the north, an area geographically prone to pollution, and its people have aspirations for development. There is a growing middle class hungry to own cars, and one-fifth of the population merely wants access to basic electricity. Those facts threaten to compromise Delhi’s efforts to improve environmental quality.

“The reality is that the pollution in Delhi is very complex. There are a lot of sources. It varies from season. It varies by time of day. It varies by neighbourhood,” says Namit Arora, a member of the pollution task force of the Delhi Dialogue Commission, a government initiative in the city. But he insists that the city can make progress. “We can act, and we need to act, on multiple fronts simultaneously.”

Delhi is trying to do just that. Long before it was saddled with the mantle of having some of the world’s worst air, the city and the Supreme Court of India took several steps to alleviate pollution. Vehicle emissions came down in the early 2000s, thanks to decisions to remove lead from petrol, improve vehicle-emission standards and pull old commercial vehicles off the roads. Around the same time, the city implemented a monumental conversion of the public-transportation fleet, including buses and the city’s zippy three-wheel auto-rickshaws, away from gasoline and diesel engines to ones fuelled by cleaner compressed natural gas. In 2002, the Delhi Metro subway system opened its first line, improving public-transportation options. All but two of the coal-based thermal power plants in the city were converted to natural gas, and many industries, including brick kilns, were moved beyond Delhi’s bounds.

These efforts reaped big gains, yet they have been offset by the incessant growth of the megacity. Since 2000, Delhi’s population has nearly doubled. And the number of vehicles has almost tripled, from 3 million to more than 9 million, according to the government…”Nature.com. Read the full column on delhiair.org.

Can Delhi save itself from its toxic air?

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