The polluted paradise

By Dr Shoukat Khan. Dated: 7/11/2018 12:57:43 AM

Amir Khusrau the 13th century legendry poet quoted the famous couplet: "Agar Firdous bar roo-e zamin ast, Hameen ast-o,hameen ast-o, hameen ast (If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this). Did he utter this Persian couplet for Kashmir is not known?
Two centuries later the Mughal Emperor Jehangir on his travel to north India repeated these beautiful words on seeing the mesmerizing beauty of Kashmir. Four centuries later we still continue using these words on plaques and billboards to advertise tourism in Kashmir and nothing can be more far from truth. 400 years have changed the flora and fauna of planet earth and so has Kashmir. The cost for developmental activities, urbanization and life style modification has been colossal in terms of environmental degradation. "Srinagar figuring among 15 worst polluted cities in the world", is saddening and alarming even if the methodology used and reasons ascribed are questionable to some extent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) data for 2016 has used only the particulate matter pollution for the air quality index during the three winter months of January, February and March when the combustion of liquid and solid fuels in Srinagar is at peak due to severe cold and dismal power supply generating excessive soot and smoke. The construction activity which may contribute to particulate matter pollution is relatively low in January, February and March, the three months for which the data has been published.
As an aftermath to the prolonged conflict in Kashmir Rajbagh, Hyderpora, Boulevard, Jehangir Chowk became new commercial hubs and during the winter months most of the power generation in these areas is through liquid fueled generators. The ever increasing number of vehicles that includes a lot of old polluting vehicles compounds the problem. No one knows if the vehicles are fitted with particulate filters that do not allow the dangerous particulate matter (PM2.5) into the environment through their exhaust system.
The WHO study does not mention the level of other common air pollutants like Nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone that adversely affect the air quality. Improved power situation in winters, using low sulphur fuel, better handling of municipal waste and trash are proven measures to improve air quality. The valley like topography of Kashmir is to some extent conducive to trapping of pollutants (soot and smoke) once they are generated. The theory of rise in dust pollution due to silt deposition after the 2014 floods does not explain the high particulate matter pollution in Soura near SKIMS and Hyderpora since these areas of the city were not flooded. The post combustion soot comprising mostly the particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5, less than 2.5 microns in diameter) is more dangerous as it remains suspended in the air for a longer time and once inhaled worsens chronic obstructive lung diseases like asthma, bronchitis, emphysema etc.
The construction sites particularly dumping of sand and cement on the roadsides which is a common practice in Srinagar are other sources of particulate matter pollution and must be discouraged through education and punitive measures. Securing clean air without compromising development requires an immense effort with highest level of individual and collective commitment. We may not be able to recreate the paradise of seventeenth century but we can improve the current air quality to safer limits.
(Shoukat.H.Khan.MD,DRM, FICNM is Nuclear Physician, Vice Dean, Indian College of Nuclear Medicine and Former, Professor & Head, Nuclear Medicine, SKIMS,Srinagar,J&K. Email: drshkhan199@ yahoo.co.in)

 

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