Smog engulfs the national capital on Nov 4, 2020.
Smog engulfs the national capital on Nov 4, 2020. . Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, July 30 : If the problems of the South Asian region, especially the wide-ranging air pollution issue, are similar and shared, so can the solutions be, said experts from different countries of the region, as they exhorted the governments and the people to work in tandem.

With 1.85 billion people, South Asia is the most densely-populated region in the world comprising middle and lower-middle income countries.

These share a regional air shed, making the multi-sectoral mitigation efforts a mammoth challenge. However, experts agreed that if the problems of the region are similar and shared, so can the solutions be.

"In-country air pollution sources are a priority for countries to control, reduce and manage. Examples from other parts of the world show that for sources that are outside the national boundaries, respective countries have little or no control. Addressing transboundary pollutants requires regional cooperation which needs a strong foundation of political will and science," Glynda Bathan, Deputy Executive Director, Clean Air Asia, a transnational NGO, told a webinar.

The webinar on 'Opportunities for addressing air pollution in South Asia' was organised by Delhi-based climate communications initiative 'Climate Trends' and the regional inter-governmental knowledge centre International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) to understand the challenges that air pollution pose for the developing economies of South Asia.

Providing an apt comparison, head of the Civil Engineering Department at IIT Kanpur, S.N. Tripathy, said that while Kathmandu and the entire Gangetic planes have a valley effect, making the odds against them, cities in South Asia are not only impacted by their topography, but also by meteorological factors.

"A comparative analysis between Kanpur, which is a representative site of the Indo-Gangetic plains, and Dhaka shows that even if PM2.5 levels in Dhaka are lesser in comparison to Kanpur, the lead (PB) concentration is far higher and exceeds even the NOx values for a good part of the year in Dhaka," he pointed out.

Concurred Supreme Court lawyer and Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, who said, "Even though Dhaka ranks as the second most polluted city in the world, often beating the levels even in Delhi, the government of Bangladesh still perceives it as an invisible problem instead of creating a specific parent law to tackle pollution holistically in the country." Going beyond the much-talked about air pollution problem in Delhi-NCR, India's National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) was set up in response to the acutely polluted Indian cities, which aims to reduce up to 30 per cent PM2.5 and PM10 levels in 122 non-attainment cities that do not meet the national air quality standards.

"It is apparent that bottom-up city level approach needs to be coupled with a regional air shed strategy for an effective air pollution management effort. We in India are doing it at region, state-level and this can be extended to transboundary areas as the air shed approach will be helpful for all South Asian countries as well," Tripathy said.

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, James Jay Schauer, told the webinar how he had often heard the industry complain that transition to clean technologies is expensive and narrated that "thirty 30 years ago, I helped build clean oil refineries in Nigeria and Philippines. So, if I could do so then, it can definitely be done in any part of the world now".

Reminding everyone that the Hindu Kush Himalayan region supports one third of the global population and is at the receiving end of climate change impacts, Director General, ICIMOD, Prema Gyamtsho concluded: "Although the Hindu Kush Himalayan region is considered the 'Pulse of the Planet', the South Asian region is a pollution hotspot with black carbon deposits increasing on the mountains. There is an opportunity to address the problems to get the together through research coordination, cooperation, and innovation by stakeholders in the region. This is a transboundary issue, and its impact will be felt by the region as a whole."

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