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Health and social costs of pollution
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy caused death of thousands of people but the monstrous air quality is taking away lakhs of lives every year in India, dwarfing the tragedy of 1984 by a huge margin
As we held the National Pollution Prevention Day this year, we are not only reminded of the ghastly Bhopal Gas Tragedy for which the annual event is held but we also stare at something far more ghastly — the deaths and diseases caused by current pollution levels in the country.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy caused death of thousands of people but the draconian pollution is taking away lakhs of lives every year in India, dwarfing the tragedy of 1984 by a huge margin. According to The Global Burden of Diseases Study published by the reputed journal The Lancet, 25 lakh people lost their lives due to pollution in 2015 alone. The study further says that India tops the list of countries globally in number of deaths owing to pollution. No wonder 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India, according to the World Health Organisation.
Death rates are not the only concern. There is a huge social and medical cost attached to the problem of pollution.
The burden of diseases: Air pollution, arguably the most notorious of all other types, can be carcinogenic and causes increase in risk of cancers and lung problems. At a time when cancer is already rising menacingly in India, the need to check pollution needs to be underscored. According to The Lancet, more than 10 lakh people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the country and in 2012, about seven lakh people lost their lives battling the disease. Worse, cancer is causing deaths even among the young population with numerous people losing their lives in their 30s and 40s. The incidence of cancer in a person causes huge mental trauma to family members and often results in impoverishment as the levels of medical insurance penetration are abysmally low in India.
The social costs of pollution: The social costs are almost as big. Whenever the pollution levels go beyond a certain level in a particular city, schools are shut which results in a heavy social cost. In a country like India, we should be doing everything to promote schooling and education.
Doctors are advising parents to confine their children indoors in view of the extreme pollution outdoors. It is a proven fact that children have stronger bones and muscles and even develop social skills when they play outdoors. If children are confined indoors, there is huge social cost that we have to pay as a society owning the problem of pollution.
Long-lasting solutions: A concerted and well thought out effort is required to tackle the problem of pollution. This will involve setting up of robust public transport and mass transit systems in cities. Many countries have demonstrated how to do it successfully and lessons can be learnt from those countries.
Another, and rather immediate solution, is to get as many vehicles as possible on alternative gaseous fuels. These fuels are as much 95 per cent better in some of the most harmful pollutants released by vehicles. This is a low hanging fruit in terms of mitigating pollution due to vehicular emissions.
(The writer is Director General, Indian Auto LPG Coalition. His views are personal)
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