Wartburg students from India are calling for environmental awareness after the air pollution in New Delhi, the capital city, reached hazardous level in the scale of the air quality index (AQI) last week, according to data collected by the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Nearly 7 million people died globally from the effects of air pollution in 2012 and 1.5 million of them were from India.
“Just because New Delhi is on the other side of the world doesn’t mean we should not be concerned,” Anne Duncan, environmental sustainability coordinator at Wartburg, said. “That pollution could still be caused by us, based on our purchasing choices.”
The situation in New Delhi is unfortunate, but it is also a reminder that our actions have consequences, she said. Also, even when we don’t see the direct effect of this issue in Iowa right now, in the long run it could affect us since we all live under the same atmosphere, Duncan said.
New Delhi is currently in the range between the 300 and 400 level of AQI which means that the high amount of toxins in the air is a health threat for people breathing it. Iowa’s AQI is only in the 26 level, considered good quality air.
Here in the U.S., United Airlines announced last week the temporary cancellation of the flights from New York to New Delhi as safety measurement for their costumers, but they resumed flights to the city the following day when the levels dropped considerably.
“You see a lot of people walking with masks,” Sneha Mahapatra, an international student from India, said. “When it’s really hot, the effect of air pollution, especially when you go out in the day, is really bad.”
Amit Bharam, an international student from India, said he feels concerned about this situation in his country and he advocates for the need of environmental education there.
Bharam was the recipient past April of $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant for developing a social and environmental project in his village Asade during last summer.
Part of his project was about reforestation and teaching good environmental practices to people in his community.
“People are getting health issues because of the air pollution in my country. There is a lot of work for us to do. If I was there I would help educating people and letting them know the consequences of polluting,” Bharam said.
Mahapatra’s cousins live in New Delhi. She said they have told her how different non-profit organizations are providing masks and clean water to people in the streets to help them cope with the situation.
The Indian government has tried to overcome the toxic levels of air pollution by creating initiatives such as “Clean Delhi, Green Delhi,” which is the slogan for the campaign promoting more green areas in the city to improve the environmental crisis, said Mahapatra.
The government is also subsidizing environmental-friendly public transportation such as tuk-tuks that use compress natural gas instead of using petrol or diesel. The combustion of compressed natural gas generates less carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide than the combustion of petrol or diesel, she said.
Mahapatra called people to educate themselves about environmental practices and about how they are contributing to problems like the one in New Delhi.
“If there are other people that don’t have the resources to educate themselves, how can you educate them?” she said.