Compounded hazard of air pollution
About 1.1 million people every year die from air pollution in India. This is a quarter of the total number of deaths worldwide
Nine out of 10 people in the world breathe air that has high level of pollutants and that kills around 7 million people every year, according to a recent World Health Organisation report. Air pollution has escalated to a major concern worldwide. Cities with high levels of air pollution have not only put common lives in danger but also cause wide-spread health-related complications.
Recently, World Health Organisation (WHO) published an alarming report on the dire levels of rising air pollution in Indian cities. The WHO global air pollution database reveals that 14 out of the 20 most polluted cities (in terms of Particulate Matter 2.5 concentration) in the world are in India. The worst city is Kanpur with PM 2.5 concentration of 173 micrograms per cubic metre, followed by Faridabad, Varanasi, and Gaya. Delhi and Varanasi are among the 14 Indian cities that figure in the list of 20 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM 2.5 levels.
In order to tackle this aggravating concern, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is taking a firm stand and has asked Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Bihar governments to respond to this WHO report published on the most polluted cities across the world. The deadline for the governments to clarify their stand is May 21, the date for next hearing.
According to WHO, there is an estimated 7 million premature deaths each year due to a high level of dangerous particulate matter present in the air that are tiny enough to enter the bloodstream through the lungs. As per a survey by the US-based Health Effects Institute in 2015, about 1.1 million people every year die from the impacts of air pollution in India. This is a quarter of the total number of deaths worldwide.
Every year, come winter and there is renewed concern all over due to the rise in air pollution. The smog further deteriorates the quality of air. City dwellers start cursing state governments for not coming up with stringent enough steps for quick relief from the health hazard. State authorities then spring to action.
The rise in the number of private vehicles to the extreme, stubble-burning, traditional cooking method with solid fuel such as coal, charcoal, and other chemical air pollutants released in the environment by factories further aggravate the levels of air pollution.
Health experts reveal that air pollution is the major cause of non-communicable diseases. Hazardous ailments such as heart stroke in adults, lung cancer, asthma, and chronic respiratory infections are solely responsible for the rise in the number of deaths in recent years. Minute dust particles and lethal gases present in air reach the lungs affecting its normal functioning and weaken other internal vital body organs. That leads to further health-related complications and ultimately a rise in the mortality rates including those of infants.
Addressing air pollution during times of emergency and acknowledging it as a source of severe health hazard will only act as first-aid to the problem. Stringent laws, feasible substitute of the traditional methods of work that pollute the air, carpooling and switching to CNG are some immediate steps that help address that matter. Other plans of action in consultation with committees of environmental expert should address the issue as one of a natural calamity. Centre- and state-ruling authorities need to be synchronised in their efforts to curb the problem. Authorities should rise immediately and realise the gravity of the suffering caused by polluted air. It is never too late to begin.
(The author is Chief Sub-Editor with Millennium Post. Views expressed are strictly personal)