“Don’t wait for birds to start falling from the sky,” Mexico’s ambassador to India Melba Pria warned on Wednesday, cautioning India to take steps to combat air pollution before it becomes like Mexico City of the 1990s.
Speaking at the Indo-US workshop on Combating air pollution in North India, Pria said that the popular belief that most people buy two cars to tide over vehicular restrictions – like Delhi’s odd-even scheme – was faulty.
“That idea is not correct. During the restriction in Mexico, we found 63% people move to public transport, 14% stay at home, 8% use taxis, 4% carpool and only 4% bought new cars. Vehicular restrictions alone, however, will not work,” she said.
Describing the poor air quality of Mexico in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pria said the air was so polluted that schools were closed for a month in 1989.
“In 1992, the UN declared Mexico City the most polluted on the planet. 85% of the children thought that the sky was grey/brown in colour. Then, one day, birds started to fall from the sky. During research it was revealed that this happened because of the toxic air,” she said.
It was then that Mexico City started a concerted effort to change things.
“From having 8 good air quality days in 1992, Mexico City went on to see 248 good air quality days in 2012. Delhi, in 2015, only had 16 good air quality days,” Pria said.
According to reports, Mexico City has managed to bring down lead pollution by 95% since the 1990s and sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide concentrations by 70%.
According to the WHO’s 2016 database on ambient air quality, the average PM 2.5 concentration in Mexico City is 20 micrograms per cubic metres. In Delhi, this concentration is 122 micrograms per cubic metres.
According to Pria, Delhi should have more coordination between state and central authorities, improve fuel quality, not allow diesel vehicles, have better technology – such as catalytic converters – in vehicles for cleaner emissions, shift industries and ask them to improve quality of air filters and strengthen the public transport system.
Pria also cautioned against expecting quick results.
“It took Mexico city decades to reach where it is today. The example of Mexico shows that Delhi too can make things better,” she said.