Breathe death: Editorial on pollution threats on health and economy
According to the recently-updated The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, approximately nine million global deaths in 2019 can be attributed to pollution. Of these, ambient air pollution was responsible for nearly 75 per cent of the fatalities while more than 1.8 million of them were caused by toxic chemical pollution. The study finds that deaths from pollution risk factors have gone up by 7 per cent since 2015 and by over 66 per cent since 2000. The data are equally grim for India. Pollution led to over 2.3 million premature deaths in India in 2019. The study did not compute the health risks only: it also evaluated the steep costs that pollution extracts on economic growth and societal development of six countries. In India, which was one of the countries studied, this figure is about 1 per cent of the gross domestic product. This should put an end to the dated argument that views pollution through the prism of health and environment while ignoring the economy. The economic implications of pollution should be an added motivation for governments around the world to formulate stronger national and global responses.
Some of the findings for India are illuminating. The research found that while India has developed instruments and possesses regulatory powers to address the sources of pollution, a centralised system to drive pollution control efforts is the need of the hour. The other interventions are not unknown either. Rapid transition to clean, renewable energy, greater use of vehicles that run on electricity and compressed natural gas, stricter guidelines, and better monitoring systems regarding the disposal of industrial waste are the measures that are needed. The government must expedite the transition to a greener economy by facilitating sops and infrastructure. For instance, there is a case for lowering the prices of electric vehicles for consumers. The most significant problem remains institutional indifference towards the growing burden of pollution. This apathy, in turn, is the consequence of the absence of public pressure on the authorities to act. Limiting the discourse on environment to the academic curriculum is not having the desired effect. Given its ramifications on health, economy and culture, environmental challenges such as pollution must find their place in the political — electoral — arena. Only then would the government pull up its green socks.