When it comes to Air pollution, South Asian countries, especially India, become the focal point of discussion. Air pollution is not only limited to news portals these days. It is becoming dangerously obvious with smog gripping over places like Delhi and Gurugram.
According to a study conducted by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace, 07 out of the top 10 cities with the worst air quality are in India. And, 22 Indian cities are listed in the same study out of the top 30 polluted cities in the world.
Air pollution results in the highest number of deaths across the globe making it the deadliest cause by far. An average of 7 million people succumb to this almost invisible killer. The University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index shows that the Indian population could live 11 less than the global average owing to high amounts of Air pollution.
What Makes India’s Air Quality so Abysmal?
The pollutants are often particulate matter, micro-sized, therefore, invisible to the eyes. This makes it impossible to understand the sources and presence of the same in the air.
The most common causes in the Indian subcontinent can be attributed to Agriculture stubble burning, Industrial Emissions, Fossil fuel burning, and Transportation activities.
- Agricultural Activities: The country is a predominantly agriculture-based economy. The northern plains along the river Ganges witness huge amounts of crop stubble burning. This adds heavily to the drop in air quality levels.
- Transportation: Being a densely populated country, India also suffers the consequences of automobile exhaust wastes.
- Industrial Emissions: By far, Industrial emissions are the largest contributors of particulate air pollutants. Nitrogen dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, and Sulfur dioxide emitted from burning fuels for goods manufacturing can cause subtle health issues like irritation of eyes to chronic lung diseases.
- Fossil Fuel Burning: Burning of Coal, Oil, and Gasoline to produce electricity and aid transportation facilities also cause the release of particulate matter into the air.
- Indoor air pollution: Indoor air pollution silently builds up over time and usually, goes unnoticed. Gas stoves’ usage results in the release of nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide. Coupled with inadequate ventilation, Uneven temperature, and humidity levels, indoor pollution can cause dizziness, headaches, respiratory disorders among other wide arrays of health implications.
Some more reasons causing air pollution are
- open burning of garbage waste
- construction and demolition activities to inhabit more population in urban areas
- use of chemicals and synthetic products like paints, household cleaning products, and personal grooming goods, etc
- Natural dust
- Lack of adequate airflow in northern planes unlike southern plateaus
- Increased population growth creating urban congestion
The impacts of Air pollution
The most obvious effects seen in the population are health hazards. The decreased average life expectancy rate in itself is alarming enough for us to understand the extent of effect this issue has on India.
- Hampers lungs health, causing irreversible damage with particulate deposits
- Long term exposure puts people at higher risk of Emphysema, more than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day
- Small particulate matter can penetrate deeper into the lungs and cause stroke, heart failure, and asthma
- Black Carbon is associated with a variety of lung carcinomas, hypertension, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease-COPD
- Air pollution is also linked to depression and suicidal tendencies
- Probable hair loss
- Can affect the health and growth of fetuses in pregnant women
Even in a child or an elderly with no smoking history whatsoever, the pinkish healthy lungs are seen as a rarity by surgeons. Passive smoke and air pollution have managed to reach the younger generation thereby posing a serious threat to the future of all citizens, crossing all age bars, socio-economic statuses, and genders.
World Bank estimates air pollution can cause a loss of 8.5% GDP on resources and up to $225 billion will be lost on labor losses as well as trillions on healthcare.
It makes a tragic note that hazard affects kids and the elderly way mercilessly than the rest of the population. While the smoking group is most likely to suffer fatal health hazards, these non-smoking groups tend to suffer the impact of it more.
Elders with immune-compromised states are more likely to succumb to mortality, while, children will develop asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, and other respiratory illnesses early in life. India currently has the highest number of Infant deaths in the world because of Air pollution.
The economic disparity puts people of lower-middle and poor classes at higher risk owing to lack of proper hygiene, sanitation, and access to quality healthcare.
This set of the population is likely to encounter more number of health hazards because of their nature of employment. Construction site workers, mining workers, glass-bangle makers, paint manufacturing industry workers, rag picking workers, and many such people carrying out labor manually, will face the extreme effects of pollution.
The State of Climate Emergency in India
The pollution has created a state of climate emergency. Unfortunately, neither authorities nor the people of the country are prepared to acknowledge this humungous issue.
The coastal areas will be affected most as well as experience the impact much before the rest of the subcontinent. Up to 24.55 percent of mangroves in India and Bangladesh are lost in the past three decades due to erosion. Most of it is irreversible.
Ground-level ozone can potentially be a fatal factor in the growth and survivability of crops and forest cover, making them susceptible to plant diseases, pest attacks, and environmental stress such as harsh weather.
Due to high amounts of Nitrogen present in air and soil, sensitive wildflower plants, lichen, and fungi which require a relatively low-nutrient soil, lose in the race of survival. Thereby, ecosystem disruption shoots up pushing lots of vegetation into endangerment.
Air pollution is equally harmful to animals and the bird population. From inflammation in the brain, decreased lung capacity, reduced egg-laying and reproducing capacities, to respiratory illnesses all sorts of issues have crept-in, in animals and birds.
Extreme droughts, wildfires, floods, and landslides are proof of the damage, climate emergency creates. These can easily disrupt the social and economic state of the country leaving us with the demolished ecosystem, infrastructure, loss of lives as well as resources.
Acknowledging and solving the problem
Even the smallest changes can quickly add up to produce significant results when it comes to air pollution. For example, supplying clean energy cooking stoves to Indian villages would cut air pollution by one third.
The ‘Clean Air Program’ launched by the Indian government, if successful, can add up to 3 years of lifespan to residents of Delhi and Gurugram, while 1.3 years to the Indian population as a whole.
Some more interventions include:
- Promotion of clean energy and electric vehicles instead of diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles.
- Prevention of Crop burning
- Investing in businesses that encourage green finance
- Focusing on policymaking aiding in environmental protection
- Eco-friendly public transportation
- Creating enough awareness in the population, especially rural habitats
Air pollution if effectively tackled, can also reduce the pace at which climate change is occurring. It is not an option anymore for us, as a species. Handling these issues is intrinsic to retaining a habitable environment for future generations to thrive. Taking action is the only way forward.