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India's air comes under US scanner


                                                                    The Times of India, Washington, 19th February, 2015

 Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON: Forget end use of nuclear fuel, supercomputers, and other frontier science, high-tech stuff that Washington has wanted to review in India for years. Even something as mundane as the quality of air in India is now deemed so suspect that the Obama administration announced on Wednesday that it is going to start monitoring it — both to protect staff in its own missions and American visitors, and to raise awareness in India about the runaway pollution that is bringing the country adverse attention across the world.

 

Led by the US State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the program, called AirNow, builds on the monitoring service that began five years ago at the US embassy in Beijing and will now expand to New Delhi and other Asian capitals. AirNow's web-based platform will provide real-time information about the quality of air, so that people can make informed decision about whether routines like whether to go for a run or take kids to the park.

 

"As it expands to more and more posts around the world in different countries, this effort is going to provide Foreign Service officers, military men and women, and US citizens living or just visiting abroad with better information about the air that they are breathing, so that they can make healthier choices and hopefully mitigate some of the harmful impacts," US secretary of state John Kerry said while announcing the program's extension to cities beyond Beijing, which was thought to be the most polluted city in the world but has since been overtaken by New Delhi.

 

Aware that such a program could be misconstrued, Kerry also indicated that the host countries too could benefit from the program since the US will be happy to share data and expertise. As part of this new agreement with India and other countries, Washington will create a fellowship program that will send US experts to missions abroad in order to train personnel, transfer skills, and build capacity for air quality monitoring, not only among embassy staff, but also through training and exchanges with interested host governments.

 

"It wasn't easy. Our hosts didn't like it particularly, but we did it," Kerry said, recalling the difficult start the program had in Beijing five years ago. "In recent years, China has gotten a better sense of just how dangerous the levels of air pollution have become, and their citizens are increasingly demanding action. There was a time when poor visibility in cities like Beijing was blamed simply on excessive fog. But today, in part because of expanded air-quality monitoring in cities throughout China, the Chinese government is now deeply committed to getting the pollution under control," he added.

 

Indian cities and its leadership, from all accounts, have shown no such sense of urgency. New Delhi, whose new chief minister's constant bronchial difficulties are all too visible, is now said to have the world's worst air quality. An recent article in the Economist under the headline "Breathe Uneasy" reported that levels of PM2.5 (minute particulate matter) in Delhi are routinely 15 times above levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation. New data suggest that, on this score, Delhi's air has been 45% more polluted than that of the Chinese capital for the past couple of years.

 

Source:- http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/pollution/Indias-air-comes-under-US-scanner/articleshow/46302642.cms