Brightly colored festival gift displays at major retail stores and poor air quality in Silicon Valley are reminding Indian-Americans this year of Diwali celebrations at home.
Big box retailers like Costco know their customers. Merchandizers working for them are stocking up their local Silicon Valley stores with products most in demand before Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, to cater to a sizable population of Indian-Americans in the Valley. A variety of Indian mithais (sweets) and spicy snacks are on display at major mainstream retail stores that are competing with the traditional Indian supermarkets for business. Stores like Costco are now also carrying raw or prepared daals, rice, vegetables, flour, naans and chapatis.
Diwali Gift Display at a Silicon Valley Costco
Adding to the ambiance is the particulate matter from multiple major forest fires in the San Francisco Bay Area that are still not under control after several days of fire fighting. Tragically, the fires have so far claimed 40 precious lives and many are still missing. The air quality in the Bay Area has also suffered. The Bay Area air with PM2.5 of 155 micrograms per cubic meter is now being compared to what Indians in Delhi (153 micrograms per cubic meter) have to breathe in normal times and it gets a lot worse during Diwali fireworks.
Bay Area Air Quality on October 14, 2017 During California Fires
Delhi is not alone; Other cities in India claim 13 spots among the top 20 dirties cities in the world. Not far behind Delhi's 153 micrograms is another Indian city, Patna with 149 micrograms. Other Indian cities among the world's dirtiest are: Agra (88 ug/m3), Allahabad (88 ug/m3), Ahmedabad (100 ug/m3), Amritsar (92 ug/m3), Firozabad (96 ug/m3), Gwalior (144 ug/m3), Khanna (88 ug/m3), Kanpur (93 ug/m3), Lucknow (96 ug/m3), Ludhiana (91 ug/m3) and Raipur (134 ug/m3). Pakistani cities of Karachi (117 ug/m3), Peshawar (111 ug/m3) and Rawalpindi (107 ug/m3) also count among the world's most polluted.
India's pollution problems are not entirely due to poorly controlled industry and transport. The early winter problems are significantly exacerbated by the burning of the fields by farmers after harvest.
With a score of just 3.73 out of 100, India ranks as the worst country for the ill effects of toxic air pollution on human health among 132 nations, according to a report presented at the World Economic Forum 2012. India's neighbors also score poorly for toxic air pollution, but still significantly better than India. For example China scores 19.7, followed by Pakistan (18.76), Nepal (18.01) and Bangladesh (13.66).
In the overall rankings based on 22 policy indicators, India finds itself ranked at 125 among the bottom ten environmental laggards such as Yemen, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iraq while Pakistan ranks slightly better at 120. The indicators used for this ranking are in ten major policy categories including air and water pollution, climate change, boidiversity, and forest management.
These rankings are part of a joint Yale-Columbia study to index the nations of the world in terms of their overall environmental performance. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia's Center for International Earth Science Information Network have brought out the Environment Performance Index rankings every two years since 2006.
The Yale-Columbia study confirms that environmental problems in South Asia are growing rapidly. The increasing consumption by rapidly growing population is depleting natural resources, and straining the environment and the infrastructure like never before. Soil erosion, deforestation, rapid industrialization, urbanization, and land and water degradation are all contributing to it.
It's important to remember that Bhopal still remains the worst recorded industrial accident in the history of mankind. As India, Pakistan and other developing nations vie for foreign direct investments by multi-national companies seeking to set up industries to lower their production costs and increase their profits, the lessons of Bhopal must not be forgotten.
It is the responsibility of the governments of the developing countries to legislate carefully and enforce strict environmental and safety standards to protect their people by reversing the rapidly unfolding environmental degradation. Public interest groups, NGOs and environmental and labor activists must press the politicians and the bureaucrats for policies to protect the people against the growing environmental hazards stemming from growing consumption and increasing global footprint of large industrial conglomerates.
There will be severe health consequences for all Indians unless the Modi government acts to legislate and regulate various sources of pollution in the country. Pakistan government, too, needs to act to prevent severe harm to public health by rising pollution.