Bad air day: Indian city chokes on world’s worst pollution

A man carrying a bag containing plastic recyclable items as he walks on a water pipe next to a sewage drain canal full of garbage in the Taimur Nagar slum area in New Delhi. (AFP)
Updated 05 June 2018

Bad air day: Indian city chokes on world’s worst pollution

KANPUR: Soot turned the white handkerchief around Abhash Kumar Sharma’s face to black as the police officer tried to direct gridlocked traffic in the Indian city with the world’s dirtiest air.
It was all he had to ward off the pollution blamed for filling Kanpur’s hospital beds with growing numbers of chronic lung and cancer cases.
“It is the same story for everyone who spends such long hours out in this city,” said Sharma, who does not get a mask for his duties.
“The pollution gets into your eyes and it often stings.”
The city of three million people has been smarting since a World Health Organization (WHO) report last month put it at the head of 14 Indian cities in the world’s top 15 with the dirtiest air.
The pain has building up for much longer, but as the world marks Environment Day, the fallout has reached crisis point for many in Kanpur.
Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, said “the models available to us make it certain that hundreds of thousands of people are dying in India each year because of air pollution.”
A senior doctor at the Murari Lal Chest Hospital, Anand Kumar, said the number of patients has jumped from about 40,000 in 2015 to 64,000 last year.
“More than 50 percent of these patients, maybe more, come with breathing-related issues,” the doctor told AFP.
“Even the severity is worsening. Many who earlier recovered in a day or two now need days and much stronger medication to get better.”
The number of chronic pulmonary disease and lung cancer cases is rising among non-smokers, particularly women, he added. “There is no reason for it (other) than primarily atmospheric pollution.”
Children under five are also suffering more, he added.
In one overcrowded ward, 74-year-old Ram Lakhan, who spends long periods in hospital barely able to breathe, blamed his suffering on cars.
“Where are the trees now? We only have vehicles, pollution and traffic jams.
“With all the greenery gone, we are only breathing what is available — pollution,” he said.

“I’ve never had it this bad before. I only used to feel breathlessness and discomfort in bad winters, when there was smog. But it has been hard even in summers for the last two or three years,” he added.
In the crippling traffic, it took an hour to drive the seven kilometers (four miles) from the hospital to the Uttar Pradesh state pollution control office where chief officer Kuldeep Misra also took aim at the 1.15 million vehicles on city roads.
“This is an industrial city but vehicles here pollute more than industry,” he said.
Misra was skeptical about Kanpur being the world’s dirtiest city as the UN report was based on “old data.”
“The report caused ripples,” he acknowledged. “But we’re not sure about the tag.”
The WHO report was based on 2016 Indian data on the number of particles under 2.5 micrograms — the smallest and most dangerous.
It said Kanpur had an average PM2.5 concentration of 173 micrograms per cubic meter — about seven times the normal safe level.
Misra believes Kanpur’s water pollution is worse than the air because of its huge leather industry and tanneries.
The tanneries are often blamed for polluting the revered Ganges river, which passes through the city.
Misra said the authorities planned to take action, but it would take time.
“There is no magic wand,” he added.
Time may not be on the side of 50-year-old Shiv Kumari, a patient at the overcrowded chest hospital who wears an oxygen mask to help her breathe.
“Pollution, dust or smoke makes me breathless. I feel that I am choking. I cough and feel as if something sharp is pinching my throat,” she told AFP.
“It has become too difficult to live in this kind of an atmosphere. Look at this machine,” she said, pointing to her automatic breathing aid that cost more than $1,500.
“How can a poor person afford something like this, especially when it’s so important for survival in this pollution?“
“The government should do something to fix this,” she added before readjusting her mask as she started feeling breathless again.


US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 41 sec ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

  • Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine
  • Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.