Fifty odd years of Ecological disaster — Prudence Or Profligacy?

” In the next century, as human population doubles the resources available per-person will drop by one half to three-fourths. Since the mid-eighteenth century–more of nature has been destroyed than in all prior history, today our continuing progress is restricted not by the number of fishing boats but by the decreasing number of fish, not by the power of pumps but by the depletion of aquifers, not by the number of chainsaws but by the disappearance of primary forest.

Humankind has inherited a 3.8-billion-year store of natural capital; at present rates of use and degradation– there will be little left by the end of next century. In the past half century, the world has lost a fourth of its topsoil and a third of its forest cover. At present rates of destruction, we will loose 70% of the world’s coral reefs in our lifetime — host to 25% of marine life. In the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s resources have been consumed, we are losing freshwater ecosystems at a rate of 6% per-year and marine ecosystems at 4% per-year. Five hundred billion tonnes of matter is wasted annually, 8 million barrels of oil are combusted everyday (a non-renewable resource), 7 billion pounds of un-recyclable scrap and waste is generated every year globally, 80% of the worlds energy is lost in transmission and heat and 88% of metals are wasted every year.

In the last decade 83% of city and town violence has had its roots in fights over water, every three seconds we add eight people to the world; for all the world to live as an American or a Canadian, we would need two more Earths to satisfy everyone, three more if the population doubles and twelve Earths altogether if worldwide standards of living are to double over the next forty years…”

So says, an eloquently written report put-together by an eminent environmental NGO of Indian origin. The very same report awards Delhi a four star and calls it an environmental success story! I find the irony laughable. Fifty odd years of state run environmentalism gone wrong. Delhi; advertised as the megapolis of the next century ought to bring people to tears. The Delhi state should pat itself on the back for a job well-done! It has successfully pulled wool over everyone’s eyes, especially over its most vociferous critics- the self-chastitised incarnation of disinterested solution driven individuals- the NGO!

The Delhi government was pressured to tone down pollution in the capital. The CNG story reads it succeeded. State-run transportation advertised with the self-congragulatory messages “World’s largest environment friendly system” printed on buses is the biggest environmental facade this decade! The pollution in Delhi has not reduced post-CNG. The Delhi government faced with a environmental disaster did the smartest things, the wiped out visible traces of pollution.

Diesel is a high ‘suspended particulate matter’ fuel; simply put this implies that higher the fuel usage- higher the visible traces. CNG is a colourless and odourless gas. Replace diesel with CNG and you have less SPM, so Delhi will merely look cleaner! As a matter of fact, Carbon Monoxide levels in Delhi are much higher than ever before thanks to CNG. CNG is a combustion fuel, not a vehicle fuel, it therefore never completely combusts in any engine… Incomplete combustion results in CO. CNG also consists of dangerously high levels of benzine (the highest in any known fuel) the same chemical that caused leaded petrol to be thrown out because of cancer fears. The instances of asthma in Delhi have gone up by 8% since CNG came into Delhi. While visibility has improved dramatically in the capital, epidemiologically Delhi’s lungs are choking far more than ever before!

Fifty odd years ago, Delhi was a beautifully planned city. Development was confined to the area between two natural barriers– the ridge forest (Aravallis) and the Yamuna. The Aravalli’s are the world’s oldest rock formations- blasted away to create potholes and a choking humanscape. The Malcha Marg, Dhaula Kuan and Vasant Kunj strip of Delhi fifty years ago was home to Wild Cats, Panthers, 250 species of bird, the Neel Gai (Antelope) and even Lions! Today Delhi imports 95% of its power from as far as Bhutan, less than 1% of its water comes from its own ground-water resources, 72% of Delhi’s population has no access to basic civic spices, there is no food security and the city’s sole sewage treatment plant rusts in disuse while a forty-two kilometer long river-turned sewer courses through its veins.

Delhi uses 600 million gallons of water a day, eighty percent of it returns to the Yamuna in the form of untreated sewage. Rivers have categories. A category ‘A’ river is a mountain river, completely untouched by humans. No river in the plains can be classified category A- fifty odd years ago the Yamuna was a category ‘B’ river– its water was potable! Today the Yamuna is a mass of vinyls, cynides, zincs, mercury, lead, flyash, waste oil , fecal coliform and pathogens. The Yamuna is not even ‘E’! Beyond Okhla, the Yamuna is a 100% sewer. Fifty years ago the banks of the Yamuna used to be home to thriving fish markets; the Nizamuddin bridge is a mass of stink devoid of all human occupants today. Fifty years ago, the seventeen drains of the Yamuna were natural seasonal rivers (that part of Delhi was called ‘satra-si-neer’, the seventeen river land), all engineered into drains to perfection.

Such is the plight of Delhi. A city that was fifty odd years ago– a self-sustained, locally governed city carved out of the mountains and lucky enough to have a breathtakingly beautiful life-bearing river in its midst. Today it is a city gone wrong thanks to poor governance and incorrect vision. So much for environmental success.