February 23, 2009

Asian brown cloud has robbed West Bengal of winter

KOLKATA: Winter wear hardly got out of cupboards this year in West Bengal, as it never really got cold. Environmental experts feel a blanket of pollutants in the air, called the Asian Brown Cloud, could be responsible for the climate change.

"For the past few years we have not been experiencing winter in West Bengal. This environmental change is caused by the formation of the Asian Brown Cloud," environmentalist Pranabesh Sanyal, who is also a member of the World Conservation Union, told IANS. "The cloud has been formed due to increasing automobile pollution in the air, carbon soot (or particulate carbon) and chemicals used in the agriculture sector."

According to Sanyal, the Asian Brown Cloud is the main reason behind the apparent climate change in India. "It's also causing delayed winter and absence of chill factor in West Bengal." "Massive use of inorganic fertilisers and automobile byproducts lead to nitrous oxide emission in the air. This has caused the formation of an atmospheric brownish haze layer over a vast portion of South Asia," he said.

As far as the brown cloud impact is concerned, India ranks first in the entire South and Southeast Asian region with Malaysia and Indonesia in second and third positions respectively, he added. In satellite images, the cloud appears as a giant brown stain hanging in the air over much of Asia and the Indian Ocean every year between January and March.

Sanyal said considering the disastrous environmental impact, many countries in Europe have already stopped using chemical fertilisers in agriculture. "Use of chemical fertilisers in agriculture contributes almost 50 percent of nitrous oxide to the nature while airborne pollutants from combustion and carbon soot have a contribution of 30 and 20 percent respectively."

Other experts on ABC, like V.S. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California, have however said soot - caused by burning fuelwood and dung for cooking - is the main culprit in the formation of the brown cloud. Agreeing that the brown cloud affects the laws of nature, South-Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE) director Dipayan Dey said: "It's (brown cloud) one of the major reasons behind the erratic climate change syndrome," Dey told IANS.

"This apart, unplanned industrialisation, rapid urbanisation, eroding coastal flood plains and fast dying out of wetlands are reducing the carbon sequestering ability of our nature. "The trend is very prevalent in the developing world. It's randomly casting a negative impact on our environment and affecting the resilience of our ecosystem," Dey pointed out.

He said the use of biomass or organic fuel, especially in the rural belts, significantly adds sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and some amount of methane to the air which ultimately leads to the formation of atmospheric brown cloud and greenhouse impact.

"These components arrest infra-red rays from being reflected back by the earth's surface and helps to increase temperature," he said. Emphasising on the environmental protection strategies, he said the policy makers should always think about the long-term impact before setting up any developmental projects in the country.

"We must focus on community-based awareness campaigning programme and mitigate the use of fossil fuel in our surroundings," Dey said, adding the irregularities in the Indian climate is the fallout of the brown cloud. According to a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the brown cloud stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea. The study also identified 13 cities as brown-cloud hot spots - including Bangkok, Cairo, New Delhi, Seoul and Tehran. "This climate change syndrome - specially the effects of delayed winter, untimely rainfall and abnormal temperature rise - disturbs agricultural productivity, nature and wildlife loss and over all it hampers the ecosystem," the report said. (IANS)

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