Yesterday, in Delhi, India, air pollutant levels scaled to 999 micrograms per cubic metre (BBC, 2018), close to 40 times that of the World Health Organisation’s recommended standards (WHO, 2018). The culprit? Fireworks that were ignited to celebrate Diwali (also known as Deepavali depending on the region).
Diwali fireworks worsen the smog in India
Image retrieved from flickr
This has been the case for the past few years – dangerously high levels of air pollution would plague the city of Delhi for days after Diwali celebrations.
While speaking to my Indian friend to find out more about Deepavali, she mentioned that her friends would post photographs of themselves setting off fireworks on social media, then including the hashtag #airpollution.
Why do people light fireworks knowing that they would have to deal with breathing smog for the next few days and potentially cause detrimental health effects to themselves?
This has a lot to do with traditions and customs. Many Indians think of fireworks as the most significant part of Diwali celebrations. For decades, fireworks have been a mainstay of Diwali celebrations. Some even feel that Diwali without fireworks is like Christmas sans Christmas trees.
This year’s Diwali air pollution in Delhi was this bad even after the Indian government imposed a ban on conventional fireworks, allowing only “green” fireworks to be sold (Dasgupta, 2018). The ban barely made a difference as mainstream fireworks were still easily obtainable via black markets (Hizbullah, 2018). Stronger and more effective regulations need to be put in place to have a real effect on pollution levels.
Luckily, this is not a problem in Singapore, where the festival of lights is celebrated with led light-ups instead of fireworks.
This year’s Deepavali lights in Little India
Photo by Roshni Sharma
In Singapore, Deepavali is celebrated mainly through song and dance and feasting with family and friends. Oil lamps are lit and placed around the house and a traditional Indian art, the Rangoli, is created to decorate the house. The Rangoli is a floor decoration made from rice, flour or powder that has been dyed (Lee, 2018).
Rangolis are a custom at Indian celebrations
Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons
However, the bright hues in commercial Rangoli powder are achieved by using chemicals like mercury, lead, and bromides (The Hands India, 2018). These chemicals can have harmful health and environmental impacts. Given how fine the powder is, it can easily end up in water bodies, polluting water sources. Traditional methods of using natural materials like turmeric as dyes are thus recommended over commercial Rangoli powder.
Compared to India’s Diwali celebrations which result in serious air pollution, Deepavali in Singapore is much more sustainable. However, devotees in Singapore can further improve the sustainability factor of Deepavali by choosing Rangolis made from natural dyes.
BBC (8 Nov 2018). Toxic smog returns to Delhi after Diwali
Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-46134304
Dasgupta, N. (23 Oct 2018). Indian activists smolder over “green” Diwali firecrackers
Hizbullah, Md. (6 Nov 2018). Fireworks ban up in smoke across NCR as makers defy Supreme Court order
Lee, G. (21 Apr 2018). Bukit Batok East residents create giant Rangoli artwork of coloured salt to ring in Tamil new year
The Hans India. (3 Jan 2018). Chemical colours glitter in rangolis in front yard
WHO (2 May 2018). Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health