A call to all mothers on the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Sky to step up the battle against air pollution
Air pollution is an enormous monster with multiple heads, each representing its many sources. In the face of the monstrously polluted airshed all over India, how do we protect our little cubs? As mothers, we have similar concerns and worries for our children who face deteriorating air quality.
It was only when we decided to come together that we understood the collective power- that we are and can be.
A year ago, some of us mothers had gotten together on September 7- being the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, to form Warrior Moms, a pressure group that insists on safe air for our children. This August 2021, one of our campaigns targeted the largest single-point polluter - the Thermal power plants (TPPs).
In 2015, the Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change (MOEF&CC) announced new emission standards. The TPPs had to adhere to these new standards within two years.
Today we are just three months away from the beginning of 2022, and 99% of our coal-based capacity has yet to curb its emissions to meet these standards. Excuses of the industry over the past seven years include not having space to put equipment, not having the money, timelines were impractical, and all sorts of other excuses, which have been debunked every time by experts. Yet, the regulatory bodies keep giving them extension after extension to keep on polluting.
The only thing we can do at this point is to keep reminding our Government that they work for the well-being of its people, its children and not the convenience of a few power plant owners.
Our campaign #NoExtensionsToPolluters asks moms, aunts and others who care about children to sign a letter to the Union environment ministry. We were surprised at the response to this issue, which is so distant from issues we face in our day-to-day lives.
We are close to around 1000 signatures from mothers, writers, actors, prominent individuals, doctors, scientists and hope to get more.
Warrior Moms is an inclusive group that aims to involve mothers from every field - be it neonatologists noting high rates of pre-term births due to air pollution, adivasi acutely affected by the thermal power industry or even engineers working in the TPPs or any person raising children in towns with terrible air pollution. No mother wants her child in harm's way.
Meanwhile, we now clearly understand the impact of the toxic air inhaled by our children. They are far more vulnerable than adults as children breathe more rapidly, absorbing more pollutants. Air Pollution impacts their brain affecting their overall health in more ways than we can even imagine. Particulate Matter pollutants like PM 2.5, which can stay for a longer period in the air, can enter the bloodstream through the lungs and reach vital organs.
In the growing bodies of our children, air pollution particles cause inflammatory damage that is the root cause of many diseases, current and future. Studies show that 10% of their lung capacity is gone by the time they enter their teens. Their height is stunted, cognition is affected.
This is what children- the future of India are facing. No child in India breathes safe air as per the World Health Organisation (WHO) norm (PM2.5 less than 10, year-round).
As a mother, we might feel that we have some control over air pollution at home, but then we would be fooling ourselves.
Air purifiers do not work unless the rooms are sealed, to the flow of fresh air, and the majority of mothers cannot even afford to buy an air purifier. It is also impossible to get our children to wear masks while playing sports outdoors. Air pollution is an issue that affects everyone. A recent research covered by Indian media stated that the poorest 10% of Indians face a risk of dying from air pollution that is nine times higher than for the richest 10 %.
There are several sources of air pollution. Taking public transport or recycling is a good public habit but it will not prove to completely resolve the air pollution crisis. We will also have to think and adopt measures to take on biomass burning, diesel generators, brick kilns and others.
Time has come to think about how we plan to protect our babies from massive institutional failures that have allowed many of these sources of air pollution to continue damaging our health.
My appeal to mothers is to wake up and smell the 'air' pollution. Fight at whatever level you can for our children because they have been 'smoking' since they were in our womb. A lot of damage has been done, but no more. This needs to stop. We must put our foot down - firmly and non-negotiable - as now..... mothers will have to step up and take on air pollution.
Sherebanu Frosh, mother of two who lives in Gurugram and is a member of the Warrior Moms network.