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Monday, January 22, 2018

A wake up call

Friday, 03 November 2017 12:25
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Tackling pollution in India would remain an impossible job as long as the remedy is not rooted in a realistic assessment of the problem and the holistic view of the issue, that is far more alarming than the pollutant levels caused by vehicular pollution and Diwali crackers burst in the capital city of the country. Equally importantly, it requires policy planning and not just sermons and lip sympathy. The country's fight against pollution and climate change has been a non-starter in view of lack of scientific assessment and the politics of treating New Delhi as the sole yardstick. Such myths need to be exploded. This is exactly what the latest report published in Lancet, a renowned international medical journal, does when it points out that 90 lakh people died prematurely in 2015 due to air pollution-induced diseases across the world, most of them in Asian countries. This is an alarming figure. Still more alarming, this staggering figure includes 25 lakh who died in India alone. Out of the 25 lakh Indians prematurely felled by pollution, 18.1 lakh died because of diseases induced by breathing toxic air. The balance 6.4 lakh died due to water pollution. Shamefully India tops the list of individual countries falling in the category of most polluted countries in the world. This report should be a wake up call for the Indian government and prompt it to do its best in first of all making a realistic assessment of the situation. Pollution is neither limited to New Delhi, nor seasonal, even though factors like vehicular pollution, winter smog and burning of wheat and rice husk are things that must not be ignored. Chemically more toxic air pollution caused by vehicular emissions, industrial pollution coupled with dust particles stays round the year in cities and along the highways across the country. The area of concern is the entire country and requires a realistic assessment of the multiple causes. The Lancet study has estimated toxic air pollution from sources like coal power plants, transport, household pollution, waste, shipping, agriculture and many others. The levels of pollution are in serious breach of WHO air pollution guidelines, which shows that teeming millions of the country are exposed to unsafe levels of fine particulate matter. The significance of the issue needs to be understood and absorbed not only in terms of shocking statistics but also in terms of the far reaching impact of such pollution lives. The rising pollution levels contribute to not just health hazards but also ultimately impact the economy of the country in multiple ways. Scientists have already noted a co-relation between decline of global agricultural yields and the rise in the global temperature. The Lancet report reinforces this view as it estimated an average of 5.3% fall in productivity for rural labour globally since 2000 as a result of rising temperatures. With respect to India, in 2016 alone, it took more than 418,000 people out of the workforce. Needless to point out that this is half the global total rendered jobless. Pollution also pushes people into poverty, via increased medical costs in a context of out-of-pocket medical expenditure for the most part. A country like India, where agrarian economy is already in doldrums and poverty is becoming more and more acute, this is extremely worrying. With a government keen on pushing through unproductive economic reforms, the impact may in coming years be much worse. There indeed is no room for complacency. The report is a clear warning to governments across the world, particularly India, to put tackling pollution as the biggest national priority. Flawed assessments, piece-meal solutions and the knee-jerk approaches to the issue, which have been the hallmark of pollution prevention methods in this country, must be dispensed with. Instead, tackling pollution must be integrated into the planning process and ambitious targets should be set with clear mechanisms for implementation and accountability.


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