On November 22, 2019 I was already wearing a face mask, so my brother, and so was my mom. We weren’t struck by Covid-19 yet. The issue was we couldn’t breathe due to the smog. The air pollution was so extreme that we were breathing burning smoke with a sooty odor. Schools were being scheduled to shut down for a few days. It was a lockdown similar to the one experienced now. The similarity was uncanny and horrifying but somehow worse because we couldn’t breathe. The air was acidic and suffocating.
Taken on Jan 05, 2020
That time I seriously considered moving to another city. It was dreadful, there really was a fuming suffocation and it was intolerable. The problem was that it was not restricted to one city. The entire northern Indian subcontinent stretching both the west and east Punjab up until New Delhi was under these insidious smokes. Circumstances in India were as bad. The situation was so dire that oxygen bars were opened up as a shrewd method to cash in on the air pollution.
Dr. Suess’ The Lorax (2012) Not just a children’s education book anymore. The book’s story is a devastating reality, the trees are all felled and oxygen is actually being sold.
This sadistic business reminded me of Mr O’Hare in Dr. Suess’ The Lorax. The similarity was horrifyingly uncanny. It was as if Dr. Seuss had written the Lorax to exactly prophesize the plight of the northern Indian industrial zones in 2019. The problem was the Lorax hadn’t come to warn the disastrous effects of the urbanization of the once dense forests filled with black buck deer, gharials roaming around the river banks and magnificent imperial Mughal gardens. The Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made climate change combat a salient feature on his agenda and did initiate a 10 billion tree plantation, but felled trees don’t grow overnight. The Lorax’s warnings were too late.
Taken on May 14, 2020, still not in the safe zone but a big drop nonetheless in air pollution.
Just several weeks later Mother Nature seemed to have taken on a vicious rejuvenation of its own. The coronavirus spread rapidly, industries stopped, day to day transportation came to a standstill. Slowly but surely the air started to clean under the total lockdown. The air quality sharply improved so much so that the peaks of the Himalayas were visible from the Indian city of Saharanpur as air quality index dipped to below 50, which were before clouded by the air pollution for 30 years (Times of India 1 May 2020).
Recently the air quality improved even further with the continuation of the lockdown. With all economic activities to a standstill, the poverty stricken daily wagers are hungry but are breathing clean air. It now comes as a question to the governments whether they starve the massive labourer populations with economic shutdown but give them fresh air in the process or lift the lockdown only to suffocate them in the poisonous industrial vapours.
Taken 2 weeks later on May 27, 2020. The dip is from 310aqi to 67 aqi, a staggering difference!
The governments of both India and Pakistan must take the spread of the coronavirus as a warning from the Lorax that the plantation of trees is indispensable, it is not an option, it is a must. If there is to be a border then in place of a barbed wire fence both must build a fence of pollution clearing trees (Gingko biloba) before its too late, instead of being at loggerheads with each other over disputed areas. Our lives depend on it.