Tuesday, August 13, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Onus on India to clear brown cloud: experts
Sanjay Suri

A thick shroud of haze (L) lingers over China, turning the sky an opaque grey over most of the eastern provinces and almost completely blotting out details of the land surface in this NASA satellite image taken on January 11, 2002. Beijing, China's capital city, is situated roughly 150 km west of Bo Hai Bay, under what appears to the densest portion of the aerosol pollution. A 3-km thick cloud of pollution shrouding southern Asia is threatening the lives of millions of people in the region and could have an impact further afield, according to a United-Nations sponsored survey. — Reuters

London, August 12
The woman burning cow dung to cook her meal in her slum tenement could be engaging in slow suicide and also taking a small step towards killing her environment and people around her.

The report by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) on the 3-km brown cloud hanging over Asia zeroes in on this kind of fuel burning as the source of the cloud that is disrupting monsoons, lowering agricultural output and creating air pollution leading to respiratory diseases.

“The big problem here could be cooking at home,” says Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen of the Max-Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany. Crutzen won the Nobel Prize for his work on discovering the ozone hole.

It is a problem that will now have to be addressed by governments in South Asia, says Prof V. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, one of the leading scientists involved in the study, conducted between 1995 and 1999 at a cost of about $40 million.

“The sliver lining in this cloud is that it can be tackled relatively soon if the correct policy decisions are taken,” he says.

The Supreme Court of India took the lead in introducing compressed natural gas (CNG) in buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws in the country. But the court had no idea of the magnitude of the cloud hanging overhead, about which its order could do nothing to remove.

The cloud cannot be tackled at the level of handling pollution in New Delhi or some other cities. Prof Ramanathan says: “We are seeing great variation in this cloud not just across Asia but over parts of India as well.”

The Asian Brown Cloud, as the scientists are calling it, “should not be seen as something static,” he said. “It is moving about all the time,” he said.

Which means pollution from one part of India could come to hang over another, just as the cloud formation from India could move to another part of the world in less than a week.

Scientists indicate that a revolution of lifestyles will be needed across India, Pakistan and China acting together.

This will mean common policies against burning of fossil fuels and agricultural wastes, against emissions from industries and power stations, and above all, against emissions from the millions of inefficient cookers in homes using fuels like wood and cow dung.

The brown clouds these fuels have created over Asia have already led to a 20-40 per cent disruption in the monsoon. That has meant more rain in the east and south, and relative drought over northwest India and Pakistan.

UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer says the technological and financial resources are available to tackle this cloud. What is needed is the “political and moral will to achieve this for the sake of Asia, for the sake of the world”.

The focus is on India, the principal player — and the principal polluter.

“Forget everything else, the Indian Government will have to make this its number-one priority,” says a scientist associated with the project.

“It has to find the political will.” IANS



More rains ahead
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 12
After the driest July in 100 years there is promise of good monsoon in the coming days, a senior Union Agriculture Ministry official Hemendra Kumar said here today.

Briefing mediapersons after a crop-weather meeting here, Special Secretary Hemendra Kumar said the Centre had declared July as the driest in the past 100 years.

However, the silver lining in the cloud was that the monsoon was likely to intensify within the next two-three days even in the severely drought-hit areas improving crop prospects as also fodder and drinking water supply, he said.

“It was the driest July in the past 100 years for the country in terms of rainfall. As against a normal average of 30 cm, only 15 cm rainfall was recorded last month”, he said.

Since the first week of August, there had been widespread rainfall in most of the areas that faced prolonged dry spell except four met subdivisions of western Rajasthan, eastern Rajasthan, western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi, he said.

More respite seemed to be in store for farmers as South-West monsoon activity was expected to further intensify after August 14-15 bringing rainfall even in the four hard-hit subdivisions, he said.

Substantial damage has, however, been caused to crops in view of erratic monsoon behaviour in July.

He said the Centre would be sending out teams by the end of this month to assess the situation in drought-affected states for giving help from the National Calamity Contingency Fund.

He said the dry spell had affected the coverage of rain-fed crops, mainly coarse cereals and to a less extent that of oilseeds and pulses while sowing of rice had been affected to a lesser extent so far due to available irrigation support.


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