Are you concerned that the quality of air around you is fast deteriorating and is increasingly becoming polluted like never before? Were you ever so concerned or conscious of the same, say even a decade ago? Not quite. What has gone wrong nowadays that has created a new panic and fear in the minds of people? Do we need any studies to tell us what exposure to bad air can do to our health? Clearly, no. The harmful effects of the foul air that we breathe are actually well documented. At the same time these are ineluctable and omnipresent, escaping which is next to impossible however hard we may try. The only thing that can work, even though for a short period, is a getaway from the gas chamber that our city has become to avoid the perils of inhaling foul air. There are two very conspicuous times when the air in most of Northern India is at its worst, during farm fires and Diwali in October-November. It is a reality that some of us do actually consciously plan to leave our home town just ahead of these two events. These two times represent all that goes wrong with the ambient air in north India when it becomes unbreathable since it carries huge level of pollutantsas brought out by the weather data.The AQI (Air Quality Index) exceeds 500 on most days during winter months. It will not be an exaggeration to state that this is most likely a national phenomenon that can be equated with and termed as a national health crisis. The excessive pollution at these times has led returning NRIs to reschedule their itinerary weeks after Diwali when air gets somewhat better. Whatever you try, you can mitigate the harmful effects only slightly to a very small extent. Sensing the imminent danger, we tend to react in unprecedented ways with whatever little success they come with.For example, we do not send our kids to play in the open when there is enough news to suggest an elevated AQI in the bad or severe ranges. We also try to give our morning walk a miss on such days to cut our exposure to bad air and hit the gym instead. We shut the doors and windows in our house as soon as the evening sets in to not let the pollutants make an unobtrusive entry that would trouble and disturb us.Some of us might have installed air purifiers at home and office too while others have installed plants to provide oxygen.Even a little exposure to bad air is enough to give sore throat, itchy and watery eyes and headache. Not only this, it can also lead to respiratory tract infection, obstructive lung disease, stroke and other severe respiratory disorders.
It should be no surprise that we are witnessing a spurt in the number of cases of cancer in the entire country.You may well say that the spurt could be because of better access to modern healthcare that detection of cancer among larger population has been made possible. But the spurt in cases in the cities where proper medical care was always available and simultaneous exposure to high level of pollution, is the case in point.The fact that big cities are witnessing the spurt too makes us believe that pollution could be the reason for the spurt. This is where some credible studies lend support to the oft sited outcome that foul air causes various types of cancer.More specifically, one in eight deaths have been attributed to polluted air.Logically enough, pollution increases the disease burden as well as shortens life spans. If air was not so polluted, those who died must have lived for another decade or so. You will soon realise the scale of the problem we are facing at the moment when you learn that 15 most polluted cities of the world are all Indian cities. Now does it sound like a catastrophe?
Nowadays there are apps available that help you know air quality in the coming few days so that you can better plan your schedule, whether it will rain, snow or there’s going to be lovely sunshine, an app can tell you in no time. We now use the weather data to tell us specifically and warn us beforehand of the days when the weather is going to be harsh and inexorable. A point that is worth talking is the level of our scientific sophistication in measuring the presence of even the smallest particles that cause pollution. Earlier when we did not have technology of measuring PM2.5 or PM10 kind of pollutants, we were blissfully unaware of the pollution that always existed albeit our ignorance.
We know that the environment plays an important role in shaping people, their habits and behavior as well. The environment comprises two major constituents, which are weather and pollution. There have been numerous studies that tell us that not just the health but mood and happiness levels of the residents is also dependenton the quality of weather they live in.Those living in extreme cold climates carry low enthusiasm, motivation, energy and are irritable.Now similar kind of study has been conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA and its China Future Lab involving 210 million subjects that wishes to establish correlation between pollution and people’s happiness and moods. The results were on the expected lines, that there is a definite negative correlation between the two. A higher level of pollution lowers the happiness and adverselyaffects the behaviour of those exposed to it. Furthermore, higher level of pollution forces people to reschedule their activities and postpone their plans thus restricting their daily schedule.
It has been around three years since a dialogue has been initiated at the behest of courts in Delhi and some sensitivity build around the deteriorating health of residents. Consequently, we are witnessing some concrete action in this regard with National Green Tribunal working in the overdrive and taking legal action on bulk polluters. Also, National Clear Air Policy (NCAP) has been formulated and once implemented will aim at bringing the air pollution down significantly. Till then we have no option other than to bear what we have always silently borne since long. The coming few years are most crucial as we will witness decisive fight against pollution at all levels.