World Environment Day, 2019 - Air Pollution

N. Munal Meitei *

I think the environment should be put now in the category of national security. To defend our natural resources is equally important as to defence from neighbours. Protecting the planet is everyone's responsibility.

The United Nations therefore observed 5 June as the World Environment Day to tackle the environmental challenges that include climate change, global warming, biodiversity lost, new dreaded diseases, disasters and conflicts, harmful substances, environmental governance, ecosystem management and resource efficiency etc. Our blue planet is the only place in the universe for the living beings.

Yet, our so called home, the earth is visibly losing its vitality and pristineness due to the reckless policies and ruinous acts of the human beings. Its resources are being exhausted and the safe livelihood of mankind is gravely endangered. Alarming environmental changes and disasters, unprecedented and unheard of before, occur at a greater rate.

Climate change with ensuing water shortage, desertification, soil and vegetation degradation lead not only to depletion of natural resources, but also threaten the social and economic development of the entire world.

The theme for World Environment Day 2018, hosted by India, was "Beat Plastic Pollution", which was a call to action for all of us to come together to combat one of the great environmental challenges of our time, the plastic pollution that makes a heavy burden on our natural places, wildlife and our own health.

This year, World Environment Day is hosted by China, with the theme of "Air Pollution". China with its growing green energy sector owning half the world's electric vehicles and 99% of the world's electric buses has shown to do something for the global environment.

We can't stop breathing, but we can do something about the quality of air that we breathe. But the air quality depends on the lifestyle choices we make every day. It is a fact that nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to levels of air pollutants that exceed safe levels set by the World Health Organization.

Approximately 7 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution and that's 14 peoples dying for every minute. WED 2019 will urge governments, industrialist, communities, and individuals to join hand to explore renewable energy and green technologies, and improve the air quality in cities and regions across the world.

Air pollution is a global emergency affecting everyone. When pollution level increases, it enhances the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones, aggravating water management problems, reducing agricultural production and food security, increasing health risks, damaging critical infrastructure and interrupting the provision of basic services such water and sanitation, education, energy and transport.

Pollutants are usually released into the environment through cycles that flow between air, land and water, until they are buried in lakes or deep ocean sediments. However, wildfires, floods volcanic eruptions, tsunamis or earthquakes can release these elements suddenly back in large quantities.

The household is also an important source of air pollution as cooking is done every day and indoor burning of fossil fuels, wood and other biomass-based fuels has again worsen the situation. Coal-burning power plants are a major contributor, while diesel generators are a growing concern in off-grid areas.

Transport activity is increasing around the world as economies grow. Around 95% of the world's transport energy still comes from fossil fuels. Reducing vehicle emissions is an important intervention to improve air quality, especially in urban areas.

Agriculture, forestry and other land-use sector contribute 24 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted worldwide through livestock, which produces methane and ammonia, and the burning of agricultural waste. When 1 ton stubble/hay straw is burnt, it not only increases air pollution but 6-7 kg Nitrogen, 1- 1.7 kg Phosphorus, 14- 25 kg Potassium and 1.2 1.5 kg Sulphur are lost.

In total, the loss of nutrients per annum in the country may be imagined. Methane increases ground-level ozone, which may reduce staple crop yields by 26%. Separating organic waste and turning it into compost or bioenergy will improve soil fertility and provides an alternative energy source. Reducing the estimated one-third of all food that is lost or wasted can also improve air quality.

The oceans absorb almost 25% of all human carbon dioxide emissions. The gas then combines with other elements to form carbolic acid. Over the last 250 years, surface acidity of the ocean has increased by 30%.

The acidity is expected to increase by 150% in 2100. With such over acidification, all the sea creatures such as shellfish and plankton which are beneficial to living beings for the production of oxygen are in the brink of extinction.

Since 1990 half of the world's rain forests have been destroyed. The clearing of forests continue at an alarming rate of one football ground per minute. Trees are now cut around 4-7 billion globally per year but annual afforestation together with natural germination amounts 1% only. A tree can store 1 ton CO2 in its life. Hence while counting the lost, cutting of trees are really miserable.

It is difficult to prioritize the top most environmental issue facing our planet today. But it is sure that over population is at the root of all of the issues. In spite of celebrating World Population day on 7th July, if we do not act now, then we will almost certainly face an environmental meltdown soon.

In India, last week, in Churu, Rajasthan, the temperature shoots up to 50.8C. It is really a horrible temperature to live in particularly for the infants and elderly peoples. Indian MeT Department, warned for further increases of this temperature in the coming few days. On the other hand, due to lack of North-eastern monsoon and usual annual rainfall, the south Indian states are facing from acute water crisis.

Bangalore and Chennai are among the worst affected. The whole country mainly the surrounding states of the Bay of Bengal are ever facing from frequent storms and devastating cyclones like Helen, Phalin, Hudhud and Fani in the past few years.

India will be the most populous country by 2030 surpassing China with population hovering around 1.51 billion. To have the sufficient food, water and livelihood for these increased populations, the country's daily requirement will be almost double at that time. Unluckily, annual precipitations are likely to reduce tremendously thereby decreasing the food production giving a huge gap between the demand and supply.

The rainfall type on those days will be very haphazardus with dry places may get more rainfall but the rest of other places will suffer with almost nil to negligible rainfall thereby leading to a severe famine to all over the country. The unconditional but torrential rainfalls will be for a shorter period accompanied by cloudburst and downpour thereby making floods, landslides everywhere leading to huge loss of lives and properties.

At that time 80% of the Himalayan glaciers might be melting away which may result abrupt changes in the climatic condition of the sub-continent and also submerging many coastal low laying areas of the country. At that time, most of our snow fed rivers like Ganges, Sutlej and Brahmaputra etc. may be dried up due to lack of ice in the catchments.

Our rich and beautiful wildlife in the 110 national parks, 514 sanctuaries and 50 tiger reserves and 30 elephant reserves will be in the brink of extinction at that time. India's pride of harbouring 60% of the world's wild tiger population, 50% of Asian elephants, 80% of the one-horned rhinoceros and the entire remaining population of the Asiatic lion will be almost diminished. Only dreaded insects, worms and unwanted alien species will be increasing tremendously challenging to both our live and crops.

There will be huge problems for illegal immigrants all over the country. The pollution level both in air, water and soil may shoot up to three times of the present condition. At that time, automatically temperature will rise around 55C in almost all the parts of the country. Hence people will force to concentrate their settlement in the cold regions and that will be a huge political problem.

Heat waves mixed with drought conditions can trigger intense wildfires that cause high levels of air pollution accompanied by heavy cyclones and storms. Due to these multifarious issues and problems, the country will be in turmoil both in politics, Law & Order and governance.

Therefore with the celebration of World Environment Day, 2019, we urge every individuals to come forward and act together to explore the ways and means for a green and beautiful planet right from now. Planting trees in all available barrens will the best option and thus let us "Think, Act, Save and Reduce our Air Pollution," for the sack of the mother earth and our future generation.

* N. Munal Meitei wrote this article for Imphal Times and The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on June 05 2019.

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