Time was when winter was the best part of the year in Delhi-NCR.Once the oppressive heat of the summers and the hot and humid monsoon gave way to the balmy days of November, people in Delhi and its adjoining cities like Noida and Gurugram would come out and begin enjoying lawns, parks, boulevards, and walking trails.
The air would be crystal clear, crisp, cold, and heavily perfumed by the fragrance of the sweet-smelling flowers of the Saptaparni trees that grow in abundance in Delhi-NCR.As the winter months progressed there would be an exponential rise in the number of garden parties, bonfires, weddings, outdoor functions, and festival celebrations right up till February, when millions of annual flowers would add their perfume to the air.
For all those who were forced to exercise indoors due to the summer heat, the winter months were the perfect time to do strenuous physical activity outdoors.Fast forward to the years after the 2010s and things started getting bad as air pollution spiked alarmingly for a variety of reasons which have been discussed and done to death by various experts, scientists, politicians, and writers alike.
The upshot of the whole thing is that despite all the squabbling and finger-pointing between politicians, farmers, the aam janata, and experts, and the efforts of the people and the Governments of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the entire expanse of Delhi-NCR has turned into a gas chamber with a dense, smelly smog hanging over the region, shutting out the sun and covering the major cities in a grey shroud.
The truth of the matter is that the air is polluted throughout the year but it just gets worse in the winter months because cold air is denser and moves much more slowly than warm air. This density means that cold air traps the pollution and doesn't whisk it away.
Thus, air pollution in winter remains in place for much longer and therefore is much more visible and breathed in at a higher rate than during the summers.Whether there will be a solution anytime soon to this problem of the winter months turning into a nightmarish situation for the denizens of Delhi, Noida, Greater Noida, Faridabad, and Gurugram only time will tell. But till that solution comes, we have to live this harsh reality of breathing in dirty air and dealing with its effects on our lives, and physical, mental, and emotional health.
According to a new study, published in the ‘British Medical Journal’ inhaling polluted air with high amounts of PM2.5 particles leads to high blood sugar levels that in turn result in increased incidence of Type-2 diabetes.
The study examined the associations between ambient PM2.5 levels and fasting plasma glucose (FPG), glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c), and incident Type-2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) among 12,064 participants in Chennai and Delhi.
The findings showed that for every 10 microgram/cubic metre increase in annual average PM2.5 level in the two cities, the risk for diabetes increased by 22 per cent.So now we have a situation where a person who is obese or pre-diabetic cannot exercise in the winter months because if they do so they increase their risk of getting diabetes. This lack of exercise compounds the problem of obesity even further and the associated health risks go up.
A person who is already diabetic cannot exercise indoors (unless they can afford expensive air purifiers) or outdoors because that will spike up their blood sugar levels even further. India already has a high burden of diabetes and air pollution will push it up even further.
The same is the case with asthma and other pulmonary diseases as dirty air just compounds the problems for such patients.We are also at a higher risk of getting lung cancer as air pollution creates an inflamed environment that encourages the proliferation of cells.
So now, we have a situation where we can’t exercise indoors unless we are very privileged and we can’t exercise outdoors because of the risk to our health.Small children will be trapped indoors as no parent in their right mind will ever send their offspring out to play in view of the ambient air quality. So now we will be bringing up a generation that will have major health issues due to air pollution.
They will also have mental health issues like depression due to being trapped indoors and also because of the dim, sunless, dreary, smoggy days for the better part of the year.There is a medically proven link between the lack of sunlight and depression. According to the UK’s NHS, a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep and not seeing the bright, shining sun may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.
It is a cause for concern that air pollution is affecting the quality of life and physical and mental health in India’s major cities of Delhi, Gurugram, Noida, Greater Noida, Faridabad, Bengaluru, Chennai and now even our financial capital Mumbai, where there are amazing opportunities for education, extra-curricular activities, jobs and entertainment.
It is time we took the problem by the horns. Not only do we need to review and overhaul our Air Pollution (Control and Prevention) Act, 1981 and National Ambient Air Quality Standards to make them more relevant to the situation today and hence more effective, we also have to empower our National Green Tribunal and plug the loopholes in our enforcement machinery.
For this we need a firm political will, cooperation between states and a strong spirit of cooperative federalism, if we are to defeat this poisonous monster of air pollution.The encouraging part of it is that with political will it is possible to change all this. If London can get rid of its world-famous smog, if China can reduce its pollution so can we.
We have to do it. Because this is the only place we have to live. We can’t expect entire cities to shift elsewhere where it is less polluted. We owe it to our future generations to clean up our act and clean up our air.