It is by now a widely known and accepted fact that air pollution is causing public health crises across the globe. India is no exception. For years the World Health Organisation (WHO) and various other institutions have made note of dangerously high levels of pollutants in and around Indian cities. However, the situation is progressively worsening and little is being done to curb emissions.
Air pollution has many well documented effects on health, particularly lung disease. However, recent evidence is emerging linking high levels of pollutants to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This recent finding is by no means limited to the pollution commonly found in cities; India’s rural population may also be at risk due to a similar correlation found between pesticide fumes and dementia.
It has been found that this issue is widespread enough to effect the majority of Indian cities. In 2015, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found that 41 of India’s 46 “million-plus” cities (those with populations in excess of a million) had poor air quality for an average of just under 60% of the days monitored. These 41 cities were the only “million-plus” cities where air quality data was available. The data reflects the scale of the pollution problem in these cities.
Perhaps most troubling of all, two cities – Allahabad and the holy city of Varanasi – did not record a single low pollution day in the entirety of the 220 days in which measurements were taken. The levels of air pollution were often higher than in the capital of Delhi, again demonstrating this is a problem affecting the entire country. The WHO in 2016 announced half of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India. Many of them are considered to have toxic levels of pollution.
This is a situation now being classed by the Indian government as an emergency. Rectifying the situation is going to require a massive change in regulation of emissions in both the industrial sector as well as stricter policies regarding motor vehicles. Potential change is also going to be reliant on huge financial backing.
The World Bank Disaster Management and Climate Change Unit has prepared a report estimating the costs to the Indian economy incurred by the excess of pollution, with an estimate totalling 3 percent of India’s GDP in health care costs. This comes alongside cost estimates for environmental damage consisting of Rs 3.75 trillion, or 5.7 percent of the Indian GDP.
This is a situation that will see long term medical and environmental effects. Even if improvements are made quickly, much damage has already been done. It is also the case that there is no simple way of solving the solution. Immediate, drastic changes could have a negative impact on the Indian economy to the point that it is less able to provide the financial backing to solve the issue at all.