Gasping for clean air
"I love the feeling of fresh air on my face and the wind blowing through my hair." These lines by Evel Knievel describe a feeling of living on love, literally, and nurturing a heart filled with happiness and contentment. However, the reality is a little different from what we actually envisage from these fulfilling words. This "fresh air" is killing seven million people every year and causing irreparable damage to several billion and has been described as the "new tobacco" by none other than the head of the World Health Organisation. India is home to seven of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world with South Asia battling deteriorating air quality and the economic toll it is expected to take worldwide. According to reports, the life of a South Asian child born today will be shortened by two years and six months growing up in current high levels of air pollution, while the global life expectancy loss is 20 months. What is more alarming is that millions of deaths are taking place from stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer, and chronic lung diseases.
Another major concern is that researchers have analysed the experiences of more than 2,000 17-year-olds and found that those in places with higher levels of nitrogen oxides had a 70 per cent higher chance of symptoms such as hearing voices or intense paranoia. People growing up in cities were already known to have more psychotic experiences than those outside urban areas. Toxic air is one potential cause. Also, the disparity between less and more developed countries is very wide and amounts to developing countries suffering PM2.5 exposures that are four to five times those of more-developed countries. It is not just the outdoor air which is the ticking time bomb but the household air pollution is another key issue. Almost 3.6 billion people are estimated to be exposed globally, coupled with the double whammy for the health of those also experiencing high levels of outdoor pollution.
A recent study titled 'State of Global Air 2019' shows the impact of air pollution in the world. More than 90 per cent people worldwide live in areas exceeding WHO guideline for healthy air. More than half live in areas that do not even meet WHO's least stringent interim target for air quality. Concerted efforts have shown positive results and air pollution has begun to turn a corner in many South Asian countries, especially China. What is needed is a definite and up-scale action plan to urgently respond to this challenge. In a nutshell, the need of the hour is urgent policy formalisation which equitably reduces pollution — both indoor and outdoor, and their strict implementation to make this world a livable place.