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At the opening of a high level side event about air pollution at the Third UN Environment Assembly, Dia Mirza, Indian actress and United Nations Environment Goodwill Ambassador, spoke about the impact of air pollution on people in India and the need to find solutions to improve air quality.
Here is her speech:
"Dear Excellencies, dear friends,
My nephew is 7 years old and attends a Private School in New Delhi, which is the capital of my beautiful country India. His parents send him to this school with the belief and hope that their son will benefit from a good education and will have access to sports, arts and other outdoor activities adding up to an education experience that will hold him in good stead during the course of his future.
For a third year in a row, this very school declared unscheduled holidays as a result of Air Pollution. In scientific terms the Air Particulate Matter (PM2.5) had reached hazardous levels in many parts of the city.
My nephew stayed at home, wore a mask all day and was forbidden from going to the neighborhood park where he usually plays soccer with his friends every evening. He will now wait to be told by his parents, when it may be safe to go out and play again.
In stark contrast to my nephew, Delhi is inhabited by over 51,000 children living in street situations. Oblivious to the hazardous air quality, these children believe that fighting the cold winter is their primary challenge to survival. Little do they know that there is also a silent killer that they cannot fight.
In the end, neither my nephew nor all the other children, and eventually no resident in Delhi and no resident in virtually every part of my country today will be spared the harmful effects of polluted air.
It breaks my heart to see that in the 21st century we have allowed our fundamental right to clean air to be compromised to such a degree. Our youngest generation is being forced to cope with respiratory diseases from infancy. The damage that is being done to their future is irreversible and every effort must be made to stop this injustice in its tracks.
Our right to life is underlined by our ability to breathe clean air. Period. There is no alternative.
In India, air pollution comes from a host of sources: power generation, poor vehicle emission standards, production of brick kilns, construction dust, poor waste management system and burning of agricultural waste.
But behind each of these sources of pollution there are clean and innovative solutions that can help us solve this crisis. Allow me to give you just one example: In India, we have a scientist who has proven that you can build roads out of plastic – can you imagine?
To bring change, we must each commit to transform our way of living and help in every way possible to beat pollution, starting with our own everyday consumption and understanding. I have personally introduced new waste management systems in my cooperative society. We segregate waste, we compost and we are now what is called in Mumbai a zero-waste co-op.
In my own everyday life, I have tried to identify every item of plastic that I can refuse, starting with my toothbrush, replacing a plastic one with bamboo. I refuse to buy packaged water and always carry my own water from home in glass or metal bottles. So much so that on my trip to Nairobi, in my suitcase were two large metal bottles, which I have been refilling in the kitchen at my hotel.
I have replaced regular sanitary napkins with napkins that are made of natural fibers and that are 100% biodegradable. I also refuse to use plastic cutlery and plastic bags, and I always keep a cloth bag handy.
The list goes on. And all of this possible because I have had access to the information that I needed to make these smart decisions.
I am a big believer that people will make better choices when they have access to information. The most imperative thing that governments can do is to make that information available to all citizens so that we can empower them to live sustainably.
In India, I have already seen people coming together to do their part, which is why I remain an optimist that it is possible to bring an end to this health crisis.
In Delhi, a group of mothers have started a campaign called #Myrighttobreathe. Their demand for clean air has brought them into the studios of leading news channels and has given them an audience with the Chief Minister. I believe their demands will be heard!
The drive for a clean environment has attracted prominent supporters in India, who are helping us champion this most important cause. UN Environment’s new Patron for Clean Air is one of India’s most prominent business leaders, Mr. Vijay Sharma.
And the Government of India has signed up to host the World Environment Day celebrations in 2018 – a sign of the government’s strong commitment to securing the health of our planet and its people.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. It is time for us to choose a future that is not plagued by ill health. If we come together, I am confident that we can make the sky blue again.
Because we all have the right to Breathe Life."