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‘It was Once Worst Place To Live in’: What India Can Learn From Mexico’s Smart Fix to Curb Air Pollution

Melba Pria, Mexican Ambassador to India, shares the smart ways Mexico City employed to fight air pollution for 25 years.

Nitisha Kashyap | CNN-News18

Updated:October 31, 2018, 7:28 PM IST
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‘It was Once Worst Place To Live in’: What India Can Learn From Mexico’s Smart Fix to Curb Air Pollution
File photo of Mexican ambassador Melba Pria. (Image: Network 18)
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Melba Pria, Mexican Ambassador to India, travels around in a fairly unusual vehicle — a beautifully done up CNG-run auto rickshaw with a Mexican flag fluttering on one side. Pria, whose own country grappled with severe pollution decades ago, says this is her way of ensuring that she is doing her bit to curb toxic air.

In an interview to News 18, she expressed concern about the dip in Delhi’s air quality and shared how Mexico fought air pollution for 25 years. City of Mexico in the years 1989 and 1992 was declared as the worst city to live in because of the extremely toxic air conditions. Excerpts:

How does the diplomatic community deal with extreme air pollution in Delhi during winters?

Pollution is not an issue just for the diplomats. Diplomats live just like everyone else in Delhi. We live here for two, three or four years and then we go. It’s about your children, your mother and father. It’s about everything that makes up the Delhi community. Delhi has a problem like many other cities of pollution all year round. It’s mainly because of its (Delhi’s) geographical position that we are severely damaged and affected by the poor air quality. It’s not only the colder months. Let me tell you, it’s not the diplomatic community it’s about everyone.

Have concerns been expressed to India’s Ministry of External Affairs?

The Ministry of External Affairs also has to breathe the same air as everybody else. It’s the other ministry and not the MEA that has to deal with the pollution issue. It’s the other authorities, the citizens of Delhi that have to deal with it.

What, in your view, can the citizens and governments do to curb this situation?

I am not here to share lessons with anyone but I can only tell you what we did in Mexico City.  In 1989 and 1992, Mexico City was defined as the worst city of the world by the World Health Organization (WHO).  We have that medal — ‘You are the worst city to live in’ — because of air pollution. It was a very difficult time for Mexico. I can only share what we did. After 25 years, we are regarded as the 40 most live-able cities. We did three things:

1. Curb on cars: We had a system where your car would remain off-road for one day per week. It’s different than the Delhi’s Odd-Even scheme because Odd-Even is impossible to implement. Every car has catalytic converters. Initially, no car had it. It took us a couple of years for every car to get one. Your car had to pass tests twice every a year to drive your car for an entire week. If your car had more emissions, it would be on the road for less days. So it took us 10 years to have newer cars on the road.

2. Fixed industrial pollution: The second thing we did was for industries. We had to close our refinery. We shifted heavy industries outside (the city) and also changed the standards. Things take time. It has to be year after year.

3. Improved people’s mobility: Initially we worked on the metro, then on the buses and then on bikes. But we have been working for 25 years. This (Delhi pollution) is something that we, or at least you and I, have been talking for the last three years. Everybody has to change. You have to change your ways and I have to change mine. The government has to define what the new policy is and we all should abide to that. It doesn’t matter whether you are old or young, male or female. We all have to breathe the same air.

How do you do your bit in caring for the environment?

I talk a lot about the environment. As you know, I am an advocator. I am a promoter of policies that have worked. We are not giving lessons to anybody, I am just sharing what we did in Mexico. I use an auto-rickshaw that is a CNG vehicle. It has become an iconic thing and everybody is using autos like these. I make sure I wear a mask when required. I ensure my colleagues have the best air conditions possible. But again, air is everywhere and we all have to do our bit.
| Edited by: Divya Kapoor
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