Improving Air Quality: Fighting Status Quo

Raakhee Suryaprakash
As we highlight the perils of air pollution on World Environment Day 2019 in the quest to “Beat Air Pollution,” let’s look at the less talked about aspect of air pollution – indoor air quality. Many believe that once they are safe inside their homes, they air safe from the poor air quality outside. This is a dangerously false notion.

Many studies have found that indoor air pollution levels are much higher than the air pollution outside. Thus indoor air quality is generally quite poor. Air pollution is a silent and unseen killer. Polluted air is linked to lung diseases, asthma and wheezing, premature death, autism and cancer not to mention that air pollution lowers IQ, decreases productivity, costs the economy billions, affects mental health and even increases crime rates.

While there is a lot of talk about air pollution. Action is limited. And action on improving indoor air quality falls by the wayside. Those who spend most of their days at home, have a lesser direct impact on the functioning of the economy: Women, children, old people, us moofers and freelancers.
Use of banned coolants in air conditioners and refrigerators affect us urbanites. The practice of keeping indoor plants is yet to catch up, despite many evidences suggesting that just plants such as, Areca Palm, the mother-in-law’s tongue and  the ivy family and money plants can exponentially improve indoor air quality but increasing the oxygen levels and by trapping particulate and heavy metal pollutants.

In the rural set up, the use of solid fuel and smoke producing traditional stoves have a serious impact on the health of those who spend most time in the kitchen – mostly women of all ages and children.  While the senior citizens and young children are most vulnerable to air pollution, with increased exposure comes increases morbidity and mortality among all age groups and sexes. Burning of household and garden wastes, crop residue and the slash-and-burn technique of agriculture all also add tremendously to air pollution.

Air pollution goes from being a local issue to a transboundary and international issue in no time. For the sake of convenience and status quo, as well as the limited budget and availability making cheap but polluting products the choice of most households aggravates the problem by delaying the adoption of solutions that work.

People talk about insects, lizards and mosquitos infestations when one recommends indoor plants. There are many variants of smokeless stoves/chulas available to the rural market especially but women of the households prefer what they are familiar with and don’t have the time to get used to cooking with gas or the modified stoves. A gobbar gas (biogas) plant is easy to set up in rural communities. The Ujjwala Yojana of the Government of India is set up to bring LPG cylinders to women applicants from below poverty line households. Yet many don’t want to invest the extra time to adopt the cleaner fuel or the less polluting but unfamiliar option.

The sustainable development goals may be in place globally to “poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” Yet the quest to improve life, livelihoods and protect the environment takes a beating because of the curse of convenience and favoring the familiar! In order to beat air pollution, hearts and minds have to be won by making clean technology the cheaper and more convenient option for all. Empowering and educating women by highlighting how clean air means healthy families, intelligent children, and less frequent visits to the doctor can be powerful motivators to challenge the status quo and beat air pollution.