India air pollution at ‘unbearable levels’, Delhi minister says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

India air pollution at ‘unbearable levels’, Delhi minister says

In the smog, a large crowd of Hindu worshippers entering the River YamunaImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Worshipers braved the smog to enter the polluted River Yamuna as part of the Hindu religious festival of Chatth Puja

Air pollution in the north of India has “reached unbearable levels,” the capital Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvid Kejriwal says.

In many areas of Delhi air quality deteriorated into the “hazardous” category on Sunday with the potential to cause respiratory illnesses.

Authorities have urged people to stay inside to protect themselves.

Mr Kejriwal called on the central government to provide relief and tackle the toxic pollution.

Schools have been closed, more than 30 flights diverted and construction work halted as the city sits in a thick blanket of smog.

A sign reading "Keep Delhi clean" with a thick smog in the backgroundImage copyright AFP
Image caption Only cars with odd or even number plates can drive on given days in a bid to reduce pollution

Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain advised the city’s residents to “avoid outdoor physical activities, especially during morning and late evening hours”.

The advisory also said people should wear anti-pollution masks, avoid polluted areas and keep doors and windows closed.

How bad is the smog?

Levels of dangerous particles in the air – known as PM2.5 – are far higher than recommended and about seven times higher than in the Chinese capital Beijing.

An Indian health ministry official said the city’s pollution monitors did not have enough digits to accurately record pollution levels, which he called a “disaster”.

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Five million masks were handed out in schools on Friday as officials declared a public health emergency and Mr Kejriwal likened the city to a “gas chamber”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution.

“This is having an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco,” the WHO says on its website.

How are people reacting?

Mr Kejriwal’s most recent comments are unlikely to please government officials, reports the BBC’s South Asia regional editor Jill McGivering. She said Indian politicians were blaming each other for the conditions.

On Sunday young people in Delhi came out to protest and demand action.

“You can obviously see how terrible it is and it’s actually scary you can’t see things in front of you,” said Jaivipra.

A protester holding a sign that says: "Can't decide whether air quality or economy is falling faster"Image copyright AFP
Image caption Angry protesters compared the pollution to India’s sluggish economy

She said she wanted long-term and sustainable anti-pollution measures put in place.

“We are concerned about our futures and about our health but we are also fighting this on behalf of the children and the elderly who bear the biggest brunt of the problem here,” she said.

Some ministers have sparked controversy on social media by suggesting light-hearted measures to stay healthy.

Harsh Vardhan, the union minister for health and family welfare, urged people to eat carrots to protect against “night blindness” and “other pollution-related harm to health”.

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Meanwhile, Prakash Javadekar, the minister of the environment, suggested that you should “start your day with music”, adding a link to a “scintillating thematic composition”.

“Is that the reason you have turned deaf ears to our plight on pollution?” one Twitter user responded. “Seems you are too busy hearing music that you are not able to hear us!”

What’s caused the pollution?

A major factor behind the high pollution levels at this time of year is farmers in neighboring states burning crop stubble to clear their fields.

A row of police wearing facemasks to protect themselves from the toxic smogImage copyright AFP
Image caption Police are wearing face masks to protect themselves from the toxic smog

This creates a lethal cocktail of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide – all worsened by fireworks set off during the Hindu festival Diwali a week ago.

Vehicle fumes, construction and industrial emissions have also contributed to the smog.

Indians are hoping that scattered rainfall over the coming week will wash away the pollutants but this is not due until Thursday.

Media caption Residents have been donning high-grade masks to counter the smog

Brazil Amazon: Old enemies unite to save their land

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Brazil Amazon: Old enemies unite to save their land

Kayapó and Panará during the meetingImage copyright LUCAS LANDAU/REDE XINGU+
Image caption Kayapó and Panará, once rivals, have united against the policies of the Brazilian government

While the world’s attention has been focused on the fires raging in the Amazon rain forest in Brazil, indigenous people living there have warned that the policies of President Jair Bolsonaro pose a bigger threat to their existence.

Rival groups have now come together to fight the government’s plans for the region that is their home, as BBC News Brasil’s João Fellet reports from the Amazon village of Kubenkokre.

Dozens of indigenous people gathered in this remote part of northern Brazil last month after travelling for days by bus and boat.

The meeting brought together formerly sworn enemies such as the Kayapó and the Panará.

The two groups were at war for decades, raiding each other’s villages in tit-for-tat attacks. The warring came to a brutal end in 1968, when an attack by the Kayapó, who came armed with guns, left 26 Panará, who only had arrows to defend themselves, dead.

Tensions remained high for years but according to those gathered in Kubenkokre, the two sides have now overcome their animosity for a greater goal.

“Today, we have only one enemy, the government of Brazil, the president of Brazil, and those invading [indigenous territories],” Kayapó leader Mudjire explained.

“We have internal fights but we’ve come together to fight this government.”

His words were echoed by Panará leader Sinku: “We’ve killed the Kayapó and the Kayapó have killed us, we’ve reconciled and will no longer fight.”

“We’ve got a shared interest to stand together so the non-indigenous people don’t kill all of us,” he said, referring to the threats posed by the arrival of miners and loggers carrying out illegal activities in their area.

‘69,000 football fields lost’

More than 800,000 indigenous people live in 450 demarcated indigenous territories across Brazil, about 12% of Brazil’s total territory. Most are located in the Amazon region and some groups still live completely isolated and without outside contact.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has repeatedly questioned whether these demarcated territories – which are enshrined in Brazil’s constitution – should continue to exist, arguing that their size is disproportionate to the number of indigenous people living there.

His plans to open up these territories for mining, logging and agriculture are controversial, and any change to their status would need to be passed by the Brazilian Congress.

Encontro no XinguImage copyright LUCAS LANDAU/REDE XINGU+
Image caption Indigenous groups performed traditional dances and songs during the meeting

But it is something that worries the indigenous leaders gathered in Kubenkokre. “Other presidents had more concern for our land. [Mr Bolsonaro] isn’t concerned about this, he wants to put an end to what our people have and to how we live,” explains Panará leader Sinku.

“That’s why I have a heavy heart and that’s why we’re here talking to each other.”

In some demarcated areas, loggers and miners are already at work after some local indigenous leaders granted them permission.

Indigenous leader Bepto Xikrin told the gathering how some 400 miners and loggers had illegally entered the Bacajá territory since the start of the year. He said that members of his indigenous group were scared and did not know what to do.

And according to a network of 24 environmental and indigenous groups, Rede Xingu+, an area equivalent to 69,000 football fields was destroyed between January and June of this year alone in the Xingu river region.

Doto TakakireImage copyright LUCAS LANDAU/REDE XINGU+
Image caption Kayapó leader Doto Takakire shows some of the destroyed areas in the Xingu basin

Heavy machinery has caused major damage and the Fresco and Branco rivers that run through the region have been contaminated with mercury.

Kayapó leader Doto Takakire said illegal mining had been further encouraged by the fact that it often goes unpunished.

Analysis by BBC Brasil shows the number of fines handed out by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) for environmental violations has dropped significantly since President Bolsonaro took office on 1 January.

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A graph showing the number of fines handed out since 2009
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Mr Bolsonaro has in the past pledged to limit the fines imposed for damaging the Amazon and many blame the president for Ibama’s current weak position.

‘We won’t repeat the past’

At the meeting – which was held in both Portuguese and Kayapó – participants discussed projects for their region’s economic developments which do not contribute to deforestation, such as handicrafts and the processing of native fruits.

“[I’m concerned] about the trees, water, fish, the non-indigenous people who want to enter our land,” explained Sinku. “I don’t want to contaminate the water with [toxic products from] mining… That’s why I’m here.”

Indigenous groups which have allowed miners on to their land were not invited, an omission which some of those attending described as a missed opportunity.

“There’s no-one here who wants agribusiness or mining in their villages, so are we just going to talk amongst ourselves?” Kayapó leader Oé asked.

Media caption   Why the Amazon rain forest helps fight climate change

The fires which have been burning across the Amazon were not a big topic of debate at the gathering, in part because they have mainly happened outside protected indigenous reserves but also because those gathered consider illegal mining and logging as more pressing threats.

“We won’t repeat the past,” Kayapó leader Kadkure concluded. “From now on, we’ll be united.”

Industry And Jobs Are Great For Any Economy: Yet People Must Be Able To Breathe

 

(This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Daily News)

Environmental protection top priority of Yangtze River economic belt development

CHINA has made environmental protection and restoration a top priority in its development plan for the Yangtze River economic belt, a senior official said Sunday while discussing the national plan to boost the economy along China’s longest river.

The development of the economic belt will follow a green path, with the strictest environmental protection and water resources management measures, according to an official with the leading group of the Yangtze River economic belt development.

The official said China aimed to markedly improve the environment of the economic belt by 2020, with over 75 percent of the region’s water meeting Grade III standard or above and forest coverage to reach 43 percent.

China classifies water quality into six levels, from level I, which is suitable for drinking after minimal treatment, to level VI, which is severely contaminated.

By 2030, the region’s aquatic environment and ecosystem will be much improved, the official said.

Environmental protection and green development are “of paramount importance” in the development of the economic belt, which should not be used as an excuse to kick off a new round of unfettered construction, said the official.

Limits will be put on water and environmental pollution, the official underscored, which will clearly define acceptable levels of pollutants.

To better protect the environment, administrative boundaries must be removed and the market be given a bigger role, the official said.

A “negative list” will be established in the economic belt, banning certain industries from the region.

A cross-regional, inter-department emergency response system will be set up to handle environmental incidents, while compensation will be given to encourage local governments to preserve the environment.

China’s top leaders have, on many occasions, said that environmental protection will play a large part in the development of the Yangtze River economic belt, noting that no economic activities should cause any damage to the environment.

In addition to environmental protection, the official also unveiled other targets, including improving the river’s traffic capacity, promoting innovation and industrial upgrading, boosting urbanization, advancing opening up and establishing a modern market economy.

The Yangtze River will be developed into a “golden waterway” by 2030. A low-carbon, integrated transport system will connect roads, railways and air routes by 2020, said the official.

By 2020 the region’s spending on research and development will account for 2.5 percent of its GDP and it will be home to a group of world-class companies and industries.

The urbanization rate of the region’s population will be 60 percent by 2020, while the quality and efficiency of its economy will be substantially improved.

By 2030, an innovative, modern industrial system will be fully incorporated and integrated along the river, making the economic belt a “strategic support” for national economic and social development, the official said.

China made it a national strategy to develop the Yangtze River economic belt in 2014. The move is expected to boost concerted development in riverside regions and provide new growth stimuli for China’s slowing economy.

Revered as the nation’s “Mother River,” the Yangtze traverses eastern, central and western China and joins the prospering coastal regions with the less developed inland. It is one of the busiest inland rivers for freight traffic worldwide.

The Yangtze River Economic Belt involves nine provinces and two municipalities that cover roughly one fifth of China’s land, accommodate a population of 600 million and generates more than 40 percent of the country’s GDP.