Time to wake up

HYDERABAD: How long would it take for Hyderabad to suffer the fate of our smog-smothered national capital? Not too long, given that the city figures among the top 100 cities in the world as far as terrible air quality goes (WHO 2011). However, officials still seem to think there’s still time before the rooster crows.

In India, air quality is measured from Good to Severe. In Hyderabad, it varies from Moderate to Poor. While scientists opine that the metro’s air quality could slip permanently into the Poor category in three to four years, N Raveendhar, a senior environmental scientist at the Telangana State Pollution Control Board (TSPCB), says it is unlikely Hyderabad will witness a thick smog as in Delhi.

The reason for this optimism, according to environmentalist K Purushotham Reddy, is that Hyderabad, unlike Delhi, has no thermal power plants belching smoke into the air, and there is no large-scale burning of crop residue in the hinterland.

However, a 2014 paper titled ‘Source emissions and health impacts of urban air pollution in Hyderabad, India’ by Sarath K Guttikunda and Ramani V Kopakka published in Air Quality Atmosphere & Health indicates there is cause for more urgent concern. 

In Hyderabad, the major sources of air pollution are vehicle exhaust and road dust. Raveendhra points to a 2008 study in Hyderabad that indicated vehicles caused 49 per cent of the pollution, road dust 33 per cent, biomass burning 4 per cent and coal 4 per cent.

However, despite these warning signs, vehicle growth continues unabated. Guttikunda and Kopakka’s paper says the city had a total vehicle fleet of a little over 3 million in 2011. This number had touched 4.8 million by this year.

While Hyderabad’s medical community has no numbers for the incidence of respiratory diseases due to pollution, the 2014 paper cited data that an estimated 3000 premature deaths were attributable to air pollution in 2006 in Hyderabad. Based on models created from the data, “We estimated 3,700 premature deaths and 2,80,000 asthma attacks per year due to PM pollution in the GHMC region,” it says.

Understandably then, Purushotham Reddy questions the actions taken by TSPCB. “When they know pollution in the city will slip into the Poor category, why are they not taking any action?” he asks.

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