The alarming level of pollution and fast sliding environmental health all over the globe in general and in our country in particular, is not only a matter of concern for all of us, but a matter of our future existence. There is no doubt that almost entire pollution and environmental degradation is result of human activities, though at times, nature’s own activities also cause pollution like; dust storm, volcanic eruptions, flood and draught etc. However, what we see today, human beings are solely responsible for the havoc they have created for whole of flora and fauna under duress on the earth. So this answers our fundamental question- what should we do to reduce environmental degradation? Simple, we should reduce human activity on the earth. The answer is simple, but its implementation; extremely difficult.
One does not need to do research to find out what is killing the clean environment. It needs only simple observation, inspection and introspection. If we want to reduce human activities, we have to reduce the population itself. It is no co-incidence that the level of pollution is directly linked to the density of population. The two most polluted countries today on the earth are China and India and they are the highest and second highest populated countries in the world. The density of population may have a bit of variation, but it is closely linked to the density and number of people living in the defined geographical area called “nation”. The “human activities” are a very broad term and involve every human activity from as fundamental as inhaling Oxygen and exhaling Carbon dioxide to carrying out activities like mining, excavations, extractions, burning, throwing effluents, farming, construction, transportations, moving of goods and livestock etc.
Since it is impossible to stop all human activities, we must divide them under vital, essential, and desirable. We can’t do anything about vital activities i.e. that are inevitable for human existence. So it is essential and desirable where we have to concentrate. There may be some difference of opinion about dividing these activities in the said heads; some may place one activity in this or that category but there can’t be any difference of opinion that it is these two categories that need to be controlled or restrained.
As a model city to study pollution, if we take Delhi, we can understand the cause and effect of pollution and environmental degradation. Delhi’s pollution levels have been a cause of concern for some time, with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and honourable Supreme Court stepping in to do the crisis management on behalf of the Governments, unfortunately. Banning of crackers, banning of diesel fuelled buses, phasing out of older vehicles etc are some of the measure taken to manage the crisis.
An estimated 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths, almost 12% of all global deaths, were linked to indoor and outdoor air pollution. It is estimated that India has almost 25% death share of the world due to pollution.
Air pollution has emerged the biggest threat to human existence and human health, ironically, created by human themselves. Nearly 90 per cent of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly two out of three occurring in South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.Among diseases linked to air pollution are cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. However, not all air pollution originates from human activities. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, volcanic eruptions, particularly in regions close to deserts and other activities of nature.
If we compare India and China, the two aspiring giants, we find over all India has not done better. Of the world’s top 20 polluted cities, 13 are in India compared to just three in China. Due to density of pollution and poor implementation of environmental laws, life expectancy is reduced by 3.2 years for the 660 million Indians who live in cities, including Delhi. In China, the corresponding slide in the life expectancy is a bit better at three years.
Water contamination is also at alarming level. 40% of the water bodies have disappeared in Delhi NCR region due to urbanization. The Ganga and Yamuna are ranked among the world’s 10 most polluted rivers. Yamuna has been declared dead due to level of effluent and degradation of water quality. Many rivers in India have fast degraded and are on the verge of extinction like Hindon in Uttar Pradesh, Vapi in Gujarat and Sukinda in Odisha, Mithi in Mumbai.
In overall carbon emission India is third; just behind China and the US. The two Asian nations have endeavoured furious economic growth in the past decade that has resulted into rapid rise in pollution. Among the two emerging economies China has better ability to manage the impact of breakneck economic growth on its environment. The effect of China’s success is most visible in its air and water, both of which have a direct bearing on public health. Its efficiency in managing better is attributed to the authoritarian regime, ironically.
We have to fight the fast degradation at two levels; preventive and corrective. At preventive level, we must discourage private transport, stop new thermal power projects, provide better techniques to farmers for disposal of crop stubbles, stop throwing of untreated effluents in the rivers, think of disposing of dead bodies in better ways like electric crematoriums. On the corrective side, acquire better technology for cleaner fuel, bring and ensure implementation of strict laws. Discourage migration from rural to urban areas and from smaller cities to bigger cities. Centralised human activity is the biggest cause of environmental degradation and it needs to be tackled at war footing. Growing population is putting unbearable stress on the limited resources available on the earth and the world need to tackle it as key preventive measure.