It’s October. It’s 2019. Diwali is around the corner and we are all happy to celebrate the festival of lights. Culturally, Diwali is a festival of great vigour, not only for Hindus but also for almost every Indian in the country. Abroad, the popularity of Diwali is such that a few years ago, Barrack Obama wished India a happy Diwali. Some years back NASA quoted that the astronauts in the International Space Station can see the country of India celebrating Diwali. Well, this year too we hope that the astronauts in the space station celebrate the festival of lights with us.
However, Rakesh (name changed), a bank executive from Delhi will not celebrate Diwali this year. Instead, he will be spending his time attending to his 3-year-old daughter, Ahana, who is suffering from breathlessness and respiratory disorders after Diwali 2018. Doctor’s report says that the child developed degenerative respiratory conditions due to toxic gases and particulate matter released by firecrackers and.
The Diwali ‘After party’
Let us now fast forward to the Diwali after party planning.
Soon after Diwali, there are mandates in televisions and newspapers advising people to stock on air masks from nearest pharmacists. For families with the elderly, they are advised to stock up the medicine cabinet for the next couple of months. As Diwali is followed by the winter months, people who constantly travel on motorbikes and two-wheelers, are instructed to use a safety goggle while riding. After all, we cannot afford to lose sight early in the morning in the fog.
Oops! Did I say Fog?
I meant smog.
We often tell ourselves that it is a small price to pay for Diwali, and every year we have fun and somehow ignore the toll it takes on our health, isn’t it?
But sarcasm aside, we happen to refer this as the aftermath of Diwali – a festival so revered and culturally important for its virtues that we pay for it with our health and some with their lives.
Air pollution has reached to such heights in India that Supreme Court of India has authorised to set off firecrackers for 2 hours only during Diwali and that too before 10 pm. In 2018, Delhi experienced a near crisis of particulate matters of 2.5 and 10 reaching 215 and 221 respectively due firecracker fumes. This year it is expected to rise even more.
The freaky PM 2.5 particulates
What does PM2.5 mean? Why is everyone going crazy on this new jargon??
PM stands for Particulate Matter and 2.5 stands for the size – here 2.5 microns. PM 10 particles have a diameter of 10 microns and are coarser in nature. The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. The PM 2.5 pose the greatest health risk, as these particles get deep into our lungs and some may even get into the bloodstream. Coarse particles are of less concern, although they can irritate a person’s eyes, nose, and throat.
When the 2.5 PM particles enter the respiratory system, it causes irritation to the lungs and cardiovascular systems. People experience breathlessness and major health concerns like asthma, bronchitis and skin irritations. Children develop diseases from a very early age and since such particulate matter does not exit the human body easily, the chances of diseases re-occurring increases significantly.
The ‘state of air’ in India
Every year the air quality is deteriorating and Diwali is one of those times that the spike in low air quality level is visible by a huge margin. In 2018, the particulate matter reached as high as 1000 micrograms per cubic meter in Delhi post Diwali putting the health and environmental safety at risk; not to forget that Delhi experiences fog every year combined with the freshly added fumes of firecrackers and vehicles. The result is smog – smoke and fog that hinders visibility on roads and is one of the reasons for fatal accidents.
Last year, Devendra Pradhan, additional director general at India Meteorological Department (IMD) quoted –
“Bursting of fire crackers during Diwali is one of the significant reasons for spike in pollution levels today… Lower wind speed and a significant dip in temperatures contributes to the smog situation,” addressing the situation after Diwali celebrations.
Dealing with air pollution in India
The government is aware of the rising hazardous air quality and had taken measures to curb the problem in the past. However, most of the measures seem to be scratching the surface; even with a ban on firecrackers by the Supreme Court, which was openly flouted last year, people are having their way during festive times. The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), an emergency government initiative, aims to improve conditions, launched around Delhi bans activities like rubbish burning to improve air quality. Many more measures are implemented in Indian states apart from Delhi too. Delhi happens to be in the spotlight, due to its increased levels of pollution during the entire year – more in the days following Diwali.
This year the Supreme Court has lifted the ban on crackers but has allowed the use of green firecrackers between 8 pm and 10 pm during Diwali.
Diwali in India is not the only contributor to this problem – 4th of July in the US, Lantern Festival in China and Taiwan, Guy Fawkes in the UK are some of the occasions that elevate the concentrations of pollutants globally.
Both particulate and gaseous pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide increase significantly every year along with water-soluble ions and metals. With the polar ice caps melting every year and the ocean levels rising, citizens across the world seem to be living the life of the paradoxical frog. Not only does it live in the well of its own creation, it does not realise the hot furnace and the slow yet consistent rising temperature. Maybe it will boil over and die one day.
Governments cannot alone control the situation. If every individual contributes to the cause of reducing the pollution, by decreasing the use of toxic substances for enjoyment and celebration, then alone it will have a positive impact on our Mother Earth. Maybe it is time to look at countries like Burma, which has a negative carbon footprint in the world, and learn to celebrate festivals in a harmonious way and implement better waste management. Maybe Ahana will never suffer from respiratory disorders and she will have a better way to celebrate Diwali with her own kids when she grows up unlike her father Rakesh.
We can either make Diwali a celebration of self-centeredness or leave a cleaner, healthier environment for the next generations; but that does not happen without being responsible.
So how do you plan to celebrate Diwali this year?