80% People in Delhi-NCR Unaware About Air Quality Index: Survey
How much do people living in the world’s most polluted capital city know about pollution?
On World Environment Day, how much do people living in the world’s most polluted capital city know about pollution?
Delhi-NCR had a rough winter last year - with hazardous air quality, zero visibility, and air pollution index reaching ‘near emergency levels’. Horrific reports suggested that inhaling Delhi air was like smoking close to 50 cigarettes a day. The situation had gotten so bad that a public health emergency was declared in November 2019, shutting schools and halting construction activities.
As the air quality deteriorates every year, millions of lives are put at risk. The situation can only improve if the residents are informed about their roles and responsibilities, and if policies are made with their participation. This starts with awareness. So we ask again: How much do Delhi’s residents know about pollution?
In order to find out, Lung Care Foundation, in collaboration with Morsel Research and Development, conducted in-person surveys of 1,757 respondents across the Delhi-NCR region, especially in areas with vulnerable populations including urban slums. From the extent to a person’s knowledge attitude and practices about air pollution, to how much they know about its harmful effects, the questions touched upon multiple pertinent issues.
1. How will you rate your city’s air quality?
More than half (57.7%) of the respondents rated the air quality in their city as bad (36.2%) or very bad (21.5%). An area-wise division showed that the number of people who found it bad or very bad was higher in Delhi and Ghaziabad than in Noida, Gurugram and Faridabad. Notably, the survey covered 1158 people in Delhi, 150 in Noida and Ghaziabad and 149 in Faridabad.
2. Are you aware of the Air Quality Index (AQI)?
Surprisingly, more than 80 percent of the respondents were not aware of the Air Quality Index and what it indicates. 93% of the ones in Faridabad & Ghaziabad, 91% of those in Gurgaon, 83% of respondents in Noida and 80% of respondents in Delhi were unaware of AQI.
When asked about how frequently they check the AQI of their city, nearly 80% said they do not check, 26% check rarely and only 3.6% daily.
3. Do You Know the Difference Between PM2.5 and PM10?
Here again, the number was startling. Over 90% of the respondents were not aware of the difference between PM2.5 and PM10. Out of 137 people who said they know the difference between PM2.5 and PM10, 21% said PM10 is harmful than PM2.5 and thus don’t have the right knowledge.
Speaking at the panel discussion after the release of the survey findings, Dr MP George from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, however, said, “I am shocked. According to my experience, Delhi residents are relatively more aware of air pollution, but maybe they do not know the technicalities associated with it, such as PM2.5 or PM10. We need to take information to the public.”
4. Do You Think Air Pollution Has an Impact on Your Health?
The results here were positive. Majority of the respondents (82.2%) i.e. 1445 respondents mentioned that air pollution has an impact on their health. Out of 1445, 473 (32.7%) were females and 972 (67.3%) were males.
Importantly, according to the respondents, the lungs and the eyes are the most impacted organs of the body, and heart, brain and skin are not severely affected by air pollution - this, as reports have shown, is far from true. Air pollution affects all parts of the body, as this interactive shows.
5. Have You or Any of Your Relatives Visited the Hospital Due to Respiratory Discomfort (Asthma/ Cough) in the Last One Year?
38.8% of respondents have visited the hospital due to respiratory discomfort in the last one year. Around three-fourth of the respondents, i.e. 1301 (74%) or their relatives were never diagnosed with a disease due to air pollution, but 24.2% were.
When asked about whether their doctors had ever spoken to them about air pollution, it was revealed that for almost 60%, no such conversation with a doctor had taken place.
6. Are You Aware of the National Clean Air Programme?
The results were sobering when the residents were asked about their awareness about government policies and initiatives towards combating air pollution.
- 78.9% respondents do not know about the National Clean Air Programme.
- Only 31.4% respondents were aware of any public health emergencies issued by the Government of Delhi.
- 78.1% were not aware of Local Government’s initiatives undertaken to reduce air pollution.
7. Who Should Be Most Responsible for Reducing Air Pollution in Your City?
On the brighter side, however, 40% residents considered themselves the most responsible for reducing air pollution in the city, as compared to the governments and industries.
When asked whether they held themselves responsible at all (And not in comparison), 97.3% of the respondents felt that they should be responsible for protecting their environment.
On an individual level as an effort to reduce air pollution, respondents highlighted that they had considered major behavioral changes such as the use of public transport (1368), car-sharing/pooling (579), reduced burning of waste (525), restricted use of plastics (510), switching off the engine of your vehicle when not in use or at the red-light signal (427)
Experts on What Doctors, Media & Citizens Can Do
At a panel discussion post the release of the survey findings, doctors and other experts gave their insights into how policies can be shaped by encouraging public participation, and how awareness among the citizens needs to be an important focus area.
Dr Arvind Kumar is Founder Trustee, Lung Care Foundation and Chairman, Centre for Chest Surgery, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. Speaking about doctors’ role in spreading awareness, he said,
“I was a little too pained to learn that doctors are not discussing air pollution with their patients. Air pollution has for long been considered just an environment and chemical issue. But it is, at its very core, a major health issue. As doctors, it is our job to talk about health. We see the impact first-hand. When I see a black lung, I know I must do something. Doctors can be motivated motivators because our patients listen to us. If each doctor starts talking to people to encourage them to take action, we would have done more good to the society than just doing our clinical activities.”Dr Arvind Kumar
It is our medical social responsibility, he added.
Also part of the panel was Ms Arti Khosla, Director of Climate Trends, who spoke on the role of media in covering the knowledge gaps and educating people. “In the last five years, media advocacy has been at the heart of this engagement. Media has contributed substantially. People may be finding it difficult to understand the jargon, but they do realise pollution impacts them. Media needs to establish the connection between the public and the policymakers. Focus should also be in localising stories and pushing them out in regional languages too.”
MP George spoke about the initiatives that individuals can take in helping improve the air quality by making little changes to their lifestyles and habits. Avoiding garbage burning, maintenance of vehicles, using renewable sources of energy can all go a long way.
“If a common person takes a small step in his own neighbourhood, a lot will get better.”MP George
As the country heads towards ‘Unlock 1’ after the COVID-19 necessitated lockdown, it is important to keep the environment and the air in mind. As Dr Arvind Kumar puts it, “Craving for economic revival should not be at the cost of our air quality. Anti-pollution measures need to be robust. The lockdown has led to some improvement in the air, and as we open up, there shouldn’t be a rebound. I’m worried that the revival may make it worse. If we don’t do something, we will be faced with more pandemics, perhaps even bigger ones.”
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