What I do :)

15th April 2012
During Avrudu, I was lucky enough to observe the Sri Lankan New Year customs and delicacies with Sri Lankan families themselves. During one such gathering, a small girl came to me and asked me what I was doing here. Her bad English and my bad Sinhala were not going very well; nevertheless I was trying to explain what I do here. But one cannot get technical with a 6 year old girl and say all those hi-fi words Air Quality management and Vehicle Emission Testing and stuff now, can we? So, I said that I clean air. “Clean Air?”, she mused, eyes big. I could see her wrinkling her nose. Maybe she was having visions of me taking a broom and dusting off air. “Why?” came the next question. I could have said “You’ll understand when you grow up” a phrase all of us have heard many times while growing up, but I didn’t want to. So, this is how I tried explaining, as simply as I could manage:

“Air is invisible. We cannot see air, but we can fill it. It is like a blanket, wrapping us moving here and there. We breathe it in and we breathe it out from our nose. Even other animals do, some through their skin. Plants also breathe through their leaves. We, humans breathe in about 700,000 cubic inches of air everyday but with Industrialization, transport and rapid motorization and other anthropogenic causes; we are polluting air and pumping more toxic into it; through stacks of industries, through tailpipes and at a certain level through our stoves as well.” There, she winkled her nose again. Then, I had to say “When we cook, smoke comes out, when we ride a car, smoke comes out, when we have big factories smoke comes out. But these smokes remain in our air. They don’t belong in air but they remain there for a long time. These toxics we have added to air, and are still adding will also be breathed by our lungs, processed in our body and will pose serious health hazards to us, humans along with other living beings because they are like small small toxic, poisons, they make you sick in the end and also cause environmental complications; which can effect local air quality as well as contribute in global climate change. So, it’s a bad thing. Not good for you, me or you dog. Bad for your garden and bad for other countries like America too.” “What about Uk? My uncle is there?” she asked. “Yes, bad for UK as well”, I said, trying hard to suppress a smile.

“Well, the air is not going to clean itself. Someone has to do the job and cleaning the pollutants in air is an uphill task; so what we can do here is stop pumping more pollutants into the air. Prohibit all the industrial stacks, reduce the tailpipes and cook without smoke. This is also next to impossible unless we time travel and go back to era before our ancestors discovered fire. So, what we can do is look at other alternatives to add less emission to air. Simply put, we can say that , to clean air, if we cannot “not produce smoke”, we should produce less smoke. And to produce less smoke as well, you really have to work hard: study, research, advocate, juggle with policies and implement and monitor as well.”

“So, I will tell you about the tail-pipe smoke, the ones our cars have, from where smoke comes out. If we look closely at developing countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, the transport and rapid motorization is one of the major causes of air pollution in cities.” Confusion. So I said, “Simply put: tailpipe smokes from cars threaten our lungs here. In context of Sri Lanka, with the purchasing of Used or so called “re-conditioned” vehicles is contributing more to vehicle smokes. To address this issue of Vehicle emissions and to reduce these emissions, Government of Sri Lanka came up with Vehicle Emission Testing program, which was officially commenced 2008.” “Mokakda? (what)” I tried to clear again “simply put: not letting the polluters “the bad guys” exist, letting the bad guys realize their mistakes and if needed punishing some nasty bad polluting guys as well.”I could see a slight smile lightening up in her face. So, I continued “ I am posted in Sri Lanka and my major task falls under learning the Vehicle Emission Testing framework: the bad guy thing and monitoring mechanism and to propose similar interventions in Nepal, like learning about how to reduce vehicles from smoke and teach my people in Nepal. Catch the bad polluting people there too. So that is what I do here.” I finished. “So are you going to catch my Tathatha too?” she asked, her big eyes pleading in a way. “Why?” I was confused. “He adds smoke to air too from our car”, she said.
I considered it for a moment, my head racing to simplify the Inspection system, maintenance details and all and said, ”No, darling. Its different. Just tell you Taththa what I do when you go home and tell him that he should take the car to its hospital. He’ll understand” Eyes got bigger and nose wrinkled. “Cars have hospitals too?” came the next question.

I gave up and said, “Yes, kind of. It is different though. You’ll understand when you grow up.”

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