Walking down the ghats isn’t what it used to be. Morning walks along the ganges isn’t a spiritual experience anymore as black toxic fumes from burning garbage dumped on the roadside emanate throughout the city. The holy city of Varanasi has become one of the most polluted cities in India due to practices like these.

Pollution in the rivers

How holy are our holiest rivers?

Blaming the authorities isn’t an option either. A number of safai workers and other cleaning staff have been found active in this malpractice and yet, the Varanasi Municipal Corporation has no hint of it officially. Road swept garbage that are collected at random corners have been found abruptly burning at various places.

Emissions from the 18 coal power plants in Uttar Pradesh can travel miles and can diminish the air quality in the entire region.

According to the Hindustan Times, Varanasi is the most toxic city in the country, which not only reveals the extent of air pollution in the city, but in the whole state. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, Varanasi has no ‘good air’ days.  It was also found that the size of airborne pollutants in Varanasi was  finer than 2.5 micrometers – the most harmful variety because they can reach deep into the lungs and breach the blood-brain barrier, and routinely double the safe limit. These tiny pollutant particles in the air can lead to various respiratory problems and increase the risk of asthmatic attacks and various respiratory infections. And what is worrisome is that it’s not just the adults that are affected, but young children too. Such alarming rise in air pollution alters the immune system in children leaving them more susceptible to virus, bacteria and other disease causing agents in the polluted air.

Coal based power plant emissions cause harm to children

The government’s steps have so far have been very negligible, as the city with a large tourist and pilgrim populace only contains one air quality measuring station in Oderly Bazar and even that station had large discrepancies.

According to RN Vajpayee, a pulmonologist and chest physician -Rates of asthma and patients reporting breathlessness in the city had increased by up to 25% in the recent past. Several schoolchildren have had their lung capacity permanently compromised because of the pollution.

How to become a Clean Air Nation

Recent events have shown us that poor air quality is a scourge of the developed and developing world alike – and that it requiresimmediate action. The evidence is clear: we need to clean up our act, to protect human health and reap the benefits of clean air for all.

Make your voice heard if you care for clean air!

Apoorva Singh was an Intern at Greenpeace India