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Danger unheeded inside our homes

It is regrettable that, according to the World Health Organisation, over a million people in India die of indoor pollution every year. This is besides the many millions who have serious health concerns because of indoor pollution. In spite of all the evidence before the Indian government, it is being tardy in putting in place national indoor air pollution norms. It should not be so slow in implementing the WHO recommendations on this issue. The use of polluting fuels thus poses a major burden on development. Part of the problem is that many millions of people still cook and heat their homes using solid fuels in open fires and leaky stoves. The fuel they use is largely biomass comprising of wood, animal dung, crop waste. In addition they also use coal. Most of these people are poor. Such cooking and heating produces high levels of indoor air pollution with a range of health-damaging pollutants, including soot particles that penetrate deep into the lungs. In poorly ventilated dwellings, indoor smoke can be 100 times higher than acceptable levels.

Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend the most time near domestic hearths. The result is that nearly two million people a year die prematurely from illness attributable to indoor air pollution due to solid fuel use. Nearly half of the deaths among children under five years old is from acute lower respiratory infections which are due to particulate matter inhaled from indoor air pollution. Women exposed to heavy indoor smoke are three times as likely to suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than women who use cleaner fuels. Among men, who already have a heightened risk of chronic respiratory disease due to their higher rates of smoking, exposure to indoor smoke nearly doubles that risk. The Indian government should not be slow in adopting the national indoor air pollution norms. Without a substantial change in policy, the total number of people at risk of adverse health effects from indoor air pollution is only likely to rise.
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