comment, 11 March 2009
Some of the myriad pedestrians, cyclists and rickshaw drivers filling the streets wear masks like bandits to try and protect their lungs.
Guwahati, the capital of Assam in the far north east of India, is bone dry. It hasn’t rained, I’m told, since 26 December. Last Friday there was so much dust in the air that half the flights meant to land at the airport had to be diverted elsewhere.
According to experts here, the swirling clouds of grit may not be a natural phenomenon. They could be yet another sign of how pollution is screwing up the climate.
Samudra Gupta Kashyap, an environmental writer in Guwahati, says it should have rained by now. But he is worried that politicians and decision-makers have yet to grasp the significance of what is happening.
In the Indian election campaign, now in full swing, climate change is not an issue. There are no green politicians, no environmental arguments and no airport-invading protesters.
Yet pollution in India is on the rise, so much so that it could become one of the world’s biggest emitters of climate-wrecking greenhouse gases over the next few decades. All that Indian political leaders seem to be offering to the crucial climate summit in Copenhagen in December is a promise to pollute more efficiently.
Even in Assam, which is one of the more environmentally aware regions of India, awareness of the dangers of climate change is low. There is an active environmental group, Aaranyak, but its focus so far has been on protecting the region’s elephants, rhinos and tigers.
This week, however, the group, helped by the British Council, hosted two well-attended seminars for journalists on climate change (which is why I’m here). There was much talk of the urgent need to push environmental issues up the agenda, and some good ideas on how this might be done.
A start was made, so maybe things might begin to change. We’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I have to go back out through the dust and travel on to Delhi, then Mumbai.
Download a copy of Aaranyak's magazine, Biolink, including an interview with me, here (9MB pdf).