Akhilesh K Prasad
In 2013, the Pune based Chest Research Foundation conducted a study to ascertain the lung function of 10,000 healthy, non-smoking individuals across various Indian cities. It was found that Indians have 30% lower lung function in comparison with Europeans.
No prizes for guessing that the primary reason for the aforesaid is air pollution. In fact, it has been well established now that around the world, more deaths occur due to poor air quality than water. In a 2015 report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health it was estimated that air pollution killed 1.09 million people in India alone.
The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act was passed in 1981 to regulate air pollution. But it has been of little impact considering that the Environment Performance Index (EPI) has ranked India 141 out of 180 countries in as late as 2016. The same survey also suggests that more than 3.5 billion people in the world, which is almost half the global population, are exposed to unsafe air quality. What is more worrying from the Indian perspective is that this figure includes 75% of the Indian population.
Air pollution is basically categorized into outdoor and indoor air pollution. According to a 2012 survey, indoor air pollution resulted in an estimated 4.3 million deaths globally. In comparison, 3.7 million deaths were attributed to outdoor air pollution. In India too, indoor air pollution is said to have caused about 0.3 to 0.4 million deaths in the same year.
The primary causes for outdoor air pollution are said to be vehicular emissions, traffic congestions, fuel adulteration and Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, open burning of waste and large-scale burning of crop residue in agricultural fields.
On the other hand, indoor air pollution is caused largely by burning fuel-wood and biomass. It is estimated that 25-30% of primary particle pollution in India is from household fuels. Approximately one billion children live in households using such fuels.
Statistics suggest that the number of vehicles in India has gone up from 37.2 million in 1997 to 100 million in 2012. For perspective, in 1951 there were just 0.3 million motor vehicles in India. Cars and buses running on CNG, which is said to be a green fuel, also release ultra-fine particles of less than 10 microns in diameter. These, according to experts, enter the lungs and other organs directly and actually cause more harm.
India is said to be the third largest emitter of GHGs. The severity is such that on an average, it has reduced life expectancy by an estimated 3.4 years. For people living in Delhi, the estimate is even worse at 6.3 yrs.
At the current rate of increase, the number of premature deaths due to air pollution globally is expected to go up to 6-9 million by 2060. Given the alarming statistics, if air pollution is not checked on war footage urgently, it is only a matter of time before we choke to death.