It’s that time of year. For us, it means Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. But for people living in India, it means canceled sports, having to walk to school with masks covering their nose and mouths, and toxic air permeating the atmosphere. With the combination of vehicle fumes and dust and smoke from agricultural fires, the pollution in India is beginning to reach dangerous levels.
According to recent data, nine out of the top ten most polluted cities in the world are in India. The only city not from India is only on the list because of extensive deforestation. Air pollution has become a death sentence – killing more than seven million people each year. Most of these deaths are in Asia. The World Health Organization estimates that nine in ten people will breathe in dangerously polluted air.
A report on air pollution risks says that, India’s air was six times over the recommended limit and causes serious health problems. The environment minister in New Delhi blames the Delhi government for not doing enough to combat this problem and called their actions “far from satisfactory.”
Diwali – a gorgeous holiday called the “festival of lights” and a major part of the culture and tradition – was on November 7th. Experts are calling this “a dangerous cocktail” due to the tradition of letting off fireworks combining with the crop burning associated with this time of year.
To combat this, the Indian government has set aside $156 million for alternatives to crop burning. They aim to reduce crop burning by 70% but critics are questioning whether this is a realistic goal. Some say the Indian government can’t make up their mind. The government proposed cutting environmental clearances on construction projects totaling up to 540,000 square feet.
The issue becomes more complicated than simply saving the environment. India is trying to toe the line between stimulating the economy and growing as a nation, protecting the environment, and upholding the democratic standard India worked so hard to achieve. Of course, the argument is that countries that are developed now destroyed the environment years ago, and now it’s stopping currently developing countries from reaching the same economic prosperity.
But at the end of the day, Indian citizens are suffering. Sales for masks have gone up drastically in recent years and the World Health Organization estimates that air pollution is the cause of one quarter to one-third of deaths – including everything from heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus compares air pollution to the “new tobacco.” He says much like tobacco, it does not discriminate and is deadly to everyone at every stage of life. According to him, “Despite this epidemic of needless, preventable deaths and disability, a smog of complacency pervades the planet.”
Air pollution can cause asthma, heart diseases, and even cancers. It can damage a developing child’s brain, heart, and lungs that will lead to a lifetime of health concerns. But worse than tobacco, nobody is a willing participant to drug pollution.
You can choose to smoke, but nobody chooses what air to breathe. Lucky for us, this isn’t an unstoppable march to our death.
There are many ways to combat air pollution and we still have time to reverse the damage we have caused. There are those working in housing, urban planning, energy, and the environment who can cause big change and need to do so. Health professionals are working with them to create a new plan for air pollution.
But even more important than that is educating the public. Indian farmers have become more aware of the impact of their actions and some have taken the stance of protecting the environment. If that message can spread, it will kickstart a positive change in air quality.
The quality of our air affects everyone and everything. Leading a healthy lifestyle is obsolete if the air we breathe is contaminated. Air pollution truly is a silent killer and it will only get worse unless we do something about it.