Cutting Lives Shorter
Well, life expectancy of the Indians may be reduced by five years on an average due to air pollution, and not because of pandemic, natural disaster or extreme poverty! In its latest Air Quality Life Index report, the Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chicago has made such an alarming revelation. However, the information is not an unexpected one. Earlier, a study, carried out by weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal Lancet, had hinted that the number of deaths due to air pollution was on the rise in India. The Lancet mentioned in the report that pollution alone had claimed 2.3 million lives in the South Asian nation in 2019. Among them, 1.6 million were victims of air pollution. As expected, the Indian capital of New Delhi has emerged as the most polluted city in the country. According to the latest survey, the life expectancy of the residents of New Delhi could be reduced by 10 years because of pollution!
India has secured the top position in the Global Pollution Index. The Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had launched National Clean Air Programme in 2019 in order to tackle the situation. The aim was to reduce the air pollution by at least 20-30% in major Indian cities by the end of 2024 by reducing the amount of PM2, the most polluted particle in the air. The Government of India had claimed that the life expectancy of Indians would increase by 1.6 years, if the project could reduce air pollution by 25%. Unfortunately, many Provincial Governments in India have not been able to utilise the funds allocated for this project.
The major causes of pollution in India is over-reliance on fossil fuels, increasing number of vehicles and population growth. This is exactly why pollution in the Gangetic plain has increased many times over the last two decades beyond the levels set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). India is highly dependent on fossil fuels, and it is still unclear when it would start using environment-friendly fuels. Furthermore, there is no legal obligation to follow the National Clean Air Programme.
According to the report prepared by the Energy Policy Institute, 63% of Indians live in areas where air pollution is above the national level. A recent study carried out by the University of Verona (Italy) has revealed that air pollution causes various autoimmune diseases in the human body. Of course, there is a need for further discussion on which diseases are more closely linked to pollution. However, there is no doubt that increasing pollution has a negative impact on public health. The steps, which have been taken so far to reduce pollution, seem insignificant and delayed, keeping in mind the increasing pollution across the globe. Protecting public health is an important responsibility of the Government. Now, the Government of India will have to concentrate on implementing the National Clean Air Programme as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Barcelona Institute of Global Health has claimed that higher exposure to pollution is closely related to lack of brain development in children. The Spanish institute has mentioned in a report that new-borns are especially affected, if they spend more time in polluted weather. The Institute has been conducting research on the impact of pollution on the development of children for the past few years. A section of researchers has claimed that the effects of air pollution are far more than that of noise pollution. They are of the opinion that the mental and brain development of children is greatly reduced, if air pollution increases.
According to Barcelona Institute of Global Health, there is a great impact of noise and air pollution on child health. Researchers have come to the conclusion that air pollution not only reduces the general sense of children, but also the rate of metabolism. They have urged parents to keep their children away from pollution as much as possible.
In a separate development, the WHO has mentioned that there was a 25% rise in mental disorders in the first COVID-19 Pandemic year (2020-21). In a report published in June 2022, the specialised UN agency responsible for international public health stated that many had suffered from depression during the lockdown.
The report stated: “In the first year of the COVID-19 Pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%… the pandemic has affected the mental health of young people and that they are disproportionally at risk of suicidal and self-harming behaviours. It also indicates that women have been more severely impacted than men and that people with pre-existing physical health conditions, such as asthma, cancer and heart disease, were more likely to develop symptoms of mental disorders.” According to WHO, one billion people or one in eight people in the world had a mental illness in 2019 (before the outbreak of Pandemic). It has urged the Global Community to join hands in order to restore the mental health condition of people.
The WHO has further claimed that sexual harassment and child abuse are the major causes of depression. Situations, such as war and climate crisis, have also been cited as causes of depression. The WHO has slammed the Governments of various countries for not spending much money on mental health, in spite of the increase in the number of mental health campaigns. Talking to the media, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed: “The information we have now about the impact of COVID-19 on the world’s mental health is just the tip of the iceberg. This is a wake-up call to all countries to pay more attention to mental health and do a better job of supporting their populations’ mental health.”
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