Sunday, October 15, 2017

Diwali in Silicon Valley

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.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Diwali in Delhi

Minorities Are Majority in Silicon Valley

Eid Celebration in Silicon Valley

India's Air Most Toxic

Pak Entrepreneur Recycles Trash into Energy and Fertilizer

Bhopal Disaster

Environmental Pollution in India

Rising Population, Depleting Resources

India Leads the World in Open Defecation

Heavy Disease Burdens in South Asia


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pakistan India Friendship Wins.

Jay said...

Riazbhai, you are using data from 2012 index. The 2016 Environmental Index puts Pakistan & India in the bottom third but India little better at 141 and Pakistan at 144 out of 180 countries.

Anonymous said...

The index is all rubbish s Asia central Asia and middle east have natural high particulate matter compared to cold and damp Europe.the index doesn't correct for this and separate man made and natural particulate matter.

Riaz Haq said...

‘I’ve never had a year so bad’: How #Modi’s big economic changes have hit #India’s small businesses. #Diwali #BJP

NEW DELHI — The sweets usually fly off the shelves during the Hindu festival of Diwali, but this year, only a handful of passersby stopped by. Idle employees waited around to take down orders while the neatly piled towers of shimmering confections waited for a customer.

Famed in Delhi's Chandni Chowk market, Kanwarji Bhagirathmal is one of many small businesses in Delhi where sales have slowed. “This time last year, there was a rush of people standing in front of the shop,” said Rachit Gupta, who runs the sweet shop. “People who were spending 1,000 rupees ($15) last year are spending 600-700 now ($9-$11).”

In the past year, India’s economic performance has fallen short of expectations. The shock of major economic changes has caused panic and confusion, leaving some small businesses like Gupta’s with slower sales than in past years.

“If food is something people are willing to forgo, then I’m not sure what’s happening to others,” he said.

The downturn is especially bitter because of the promises Prime Minister Narendra Modi made when he came to power in 2014. Chiding his predecessor Manmohan Singh, an Oxford-educated economist who oversaw the economic liberalization of India in the 1990s, Modi presented himself as a financial genius who presided over the state of Gujarat throughout years of boom. He spoke of his own rise from a streetside tea seller as a personal economic miracle, promising jobs for the young and a new focus on manufacturing to take on neighboring China.

But Modi’s promises have gone unfulfilled. Growth slumped to a three-year low from April to June, just 5.7 percent. Job creation has stagnated, leaving millions without work.

In November 2016, Modi made a surprise announcement declaring 86 percent of India’s cash defunct, saying the process of replacing the country’s paper money, also known as demonetization, would do away with untaxed stacks of “black money.” Just afterward, the queues outside Gupta’s shop vanished entirely. “I didn’t see people coming for days,” he said.

In July, a new goods and services tax was introduced, but there has been confusion over its implementation. The tax replaced varied state taxes and consolidates India’s economy into a single market for the first time, and it resulted in a price hike for items and services. Gupta, like many traders in Chandni Chowk, still doesn’tknow how much tax to charge. He said even his accountant didn’t know. “If the people at the top don't know what’s happening,” he said, “then how will people lower down the ladder know what to do?”

Riaz Haq said...

Jay: "Riazbhai, you are using data from 2012 index. The 2016 Environmental Index puts Pakistan & India in the bottom third but India little better at 141 and Pakistan at 144 out of 180 countries."

National average is not as meaningful as individual cities.

Delhi's PM2.5 count of 153 microgram per cubic meter is much worse than Karachi's 117. And Delhi gets a lot worse during Diwali

Here's more recent data from the Guardian that also shows Delhi (122) much worse than Karachi (88)

Nitin B said...

Happy Diwali & a Prosperous New Year to Mr Riaz and all Pakistanis!
We may disagree on issues but I do wish peace and health for all of us.

Riaz Haq said...

The Ancient Origins of Diwali, India’s Biggest Holiday

Like many Hindu festivals, there isn’t just one reason to celebrate the five-day holiday. Pankaj Jain, a professor of anthropology, philosophy, and religion at the University of North Texas, says that the ancient celebration is linked to multiple stories in religious texts, and it’s impossible to say which came first, or how long ago Diwali started.

Many of these stories are about the triumph of good over evil. In northern India, a common tale associated with Diwali is about King Rama, one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu. When an evil Sri Lankan king captures Rama’s wife Sita, he “builds up an army of monkeys” to rescue her, Jain says.

The monkeys “build a bridge over from India to Sri Lanka, and they invade Sri Lanka and free Sita and kill that evil king,” he says. As Rama and Sita return to the north, “millions of lights are spread out across the city Ayodhya just to help them come back home, just to welcome them.” Lighting lamps has long been one of the ways that Hindus celebrate Diwali.

In the south, Diwali is popularly linked to a story about the Hindu god Krishna, a different incarnation of Vishnu, in which he frees some 16,000 women from another evil king. In the western state of Gujarati, the New Year coincides with Diwali (there are multiple New Years throughout India), and Diwali is associated with asking the goddess Lakshmi for prosperity in the coming year. During the festival, many celebrants exchange gifts and coins.

Other religions like Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism use Diwali to mark important events in their histories, too. Professor Jain, who is petitioning one of Texas’ school districts to recognize Diwali, says that while Diwali is a religious holiday, it’s also somewhat of a national holiday in India. Comparing it to Christmas in the U.S., he points out that many non-Christians in America still buy a Christmas tree and give each other gifts.

Nitin B said...

Echo your comments. Diwali is very uplifting for me and many friends and we are not very religious. It is all about focusing on doing good things and helping people who are not so fortunate.

Riaz Haq said...

Pollution in Delhi soars after Diwali despite ban on firecrackers; air quality very poor

By 11 pm, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee's (DPCC) RK Puram monitoring station started showing PM2.5 and PM10 at 878 and 1,179 micrograms per cubic metre, 10 times beyond the safety limits. According to the SAFAR or System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research, the 24-hour rolling average of PM2.5 and PM10 were 154 and 256 micrograms per cubic metre respectively at around 11 pm.

As the Diwali evening progressed, celebrations seemed pretty low-key this year. There were only faint sounds of crackers bursting and fireworks. Air pollution levels also seemed to be under control. For quite some time it appeared as if the Supreme Court's ban on sale of crackers was showing its impact. However, what appeared to be a quieter Diwali only a few hours ago soon changed with the incessant bursting of crackers. Rapid deterioration of the air quality started from roughly around 7 pm and reports mention that the online indicators of the pollution monitoring stations showed Delhi suffering 'very poor' air quality on Diwali night.

A 'very poor' air quality index (AQI) essentially means that people may suffer from respiratory illnesses on a prolonged exposure to such air. If the air quality deteriorates further, even healthy people with no respiratory conditions are going to be affected.

Riaz Haq said...

From NASA Observatory:

The Indian state of Punjab is known as India’s breadbasket. Despite its relatively small size, Punjab ranks among the nation’s top wheat and rice producers. For a few weeks in October and November, Punjab also becomes a major producer of air pollution.
Punjab has two growing seasons and two main crops. Rice is planted in May and grown through September; wheat is planted in November and grown through April. Since rice leaves behind a significant amount of plant debris after harvest, many farmers burn the leftover debris in October and November to quickly prepare their fields for the wheat crop.
In early October 2016, Earth-observing satellites began to detect small fires in Punjab, and the number of fires increased rapidly in the following weeks. By November, thousands of fires burned across the state, and a thick pall of smoke hovered over India. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured a natural color image on November 2, 2016. The map (second image) shows the locations of the fires VIIRS also detected.
Since the fires are small, short-lived, and burn at relatively low-temperatures, the smoke generally stays near the surface. On November 2, winds carried a stream of smoke—likely mixed with small particles of soil, dust, and partially burned plant material—toward New Delhi. The smoke from Punjab combined with urban pollution from vehicles, industry, and fireworks to push levels of particulate matter in the capital city to unusually high levels.
The number of fires in Punjab generally decreases by the middle of November, according to a study of satellite data collected between 2004 and 2014.

Riaz Haq said...

From India's News18:

Pakistan is Better than India When it Comes to Controlling Crop Burning

The air in Delhi is more toxic than what human lungs can deal with. And Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has blamed it on crop burning in neighbouring states. He tweeted, “We have to find a solution to crop burning in adjoining states.” But have we done anything substantial to find a solution?

Well, it seems Pakistan is doing better than India when it comes to controlling crop burning.

This year, according to reports, 2,620 incidents of crop fire were spotted via satellite in Indian Punjab. In Pakistan, the number was limited to just 27.

Now Pakistan is blaming India for causing an “incursion of smoke”. According to a report in Dawn, the Punjab Environment Department (EPD) has requested the federal government to approach Indian authorities on the pollution issue. They say it has caused smog in different cities of the province, including Lahore. “Crop stubble is also being burnt in our cities but the present and the expected level of burning on the Indian side is alarming,” an EPD official told Dawn.

While Pakistan’s Punjab area stretches to 205,344 km2 with a population of 11 crore, India’s is far less. The Punjab area in India is about 50,362 km2 and the population is 2.7 crore.

Though the problem of crop burning has existed in both the countries for decades, it seems Pakistan has been able to tackle it far better than India.

In 2014, Pakistan wasn’t very far from India when it came to the problem of crop burning. Lahore, along with New Delhi, was listed amongst the top 10 worst cities for smog in that year.

A satellite image from November 2015 by ISRO showed that Pakistan had a near same incidence of farm fires a couple of years ago. Mohan Guruswamy, the chairperson for the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Delhi, pointed this out on Facebook.

These maps show that crop burning has reduced massively in Pakistan’s part of Punjab.

Meanwhile, in India, we are still struggling.

India’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) has pulled up Punjab government, saying that even after “two years of being asked to come up with an action plan, they have not done much.”

The bench has asked if Captain Amarinder Singh-led government can produce a single farmer from Punjab before them who can say the government gave him any kind of assistance to stop crop burning.

The farmers in Punjab and Haryana say there is no affordable alternative to stubble burning. “I will set fire to my farm to clear it. If need be, I will pay the fine because there is no other option,” Jitendra Singh, a farmer told News18.

Farmers have to clear the fields and ready them for the winter crop in the window between kharif harvest and rabi planting. The window is of 20 days. The highly mechanized agriculture makes the input costs very high. Naturally, pollution is the last thing on their mind.

A fine of Rs 2,500 per acre can be levied if a farmer is caught burning his farm. But that is very little compared to the cost of any alternative method.

Time for us to take a leaf out of Pakistan’s book?

Riaz Haq said...

From Wall Street Journal Nov 2016:
Air pollution in India’s capital surged this week, with a haze reducing visibility to 50 meters at times and prompting calls for government action.
“We saw an increase in pollutants this year because of very low wind speed,” said Dr. Dipankar Saha, scientist and in-charge of the air laboratory at the Central Pollution Control Board.
Mean wind speed dropped to 1.8 meters per second last week compared with 3.4 meter per second around the same time last year, reducing the amount of pollutants that were dispersed.
The problem was also aggravated by a reversal in normal direction of wind, said R. Vishen, in-charge of the regional weather forecasting center of India Meteorological Department, New Delhi. “Normally, the wind direction in Delhi is north westerly (west to east). But from October 28 till date, the north north easterly (east to west) component was prevailing, preventing pollutants from dispersing and allowing them to accumulate in the air,” he said.

Burning of stubble in paddy fields to prepare them for the next harvest in the neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh also add to Delhi’s own air pollution woes: emissions from vehicles, industries using coal for power and dust from construction activities and movement of vehicles. The burning of trash, which can contain plastic, rubber and metal items and gives off toxic emissions, also adds to the city’s acrid air.
Images of stubble burning from NASA show smoke emanating from India’s border state of Punjab.
Delhi’s polluted air saw an additional kick due to burning of firecrackers and fireworks during Diwali, said Mr. Sharma.
“Unless we control our pollution from combustion, crop burning, vehicular emissions and other sources on a regional scale, this problem of pollution can’t be solved,” he said.