The thick layers of smog that blanket India’s streets have increased temperatures, damaged the country’s ecosystem, and contributed to an ongoing depletion of the world’s atmosphere for generations. However, these effects fall behind an even more dangerous threat: public health. Due to the overwhelming pollution, India is experiencing a public health crisis that could cost citizens their lives. In India’s capital, New Delhi, the pollution has skyrocketed to 10 times over the safe limit, with particles matter 2.5 air pollution reaching 700 micrograms per cubic meter. According to a study from The Lancet, air pollution has killed an estimated 1.9 million people across 21 Asian countries in 2015. Of the people who died, one in four were from India. As the toxic particles continue to multiply, the government will need to take measures to keep its people alive. Still, the Indian government has not implemented a long-term solution to the crisis. In an emergency response to recent rise in air pollution, India closed schools and construction projects in New Delhi. Despite knowledge of public health risks, India’s government did not take preventative steps to combat the toxic emissions in the air. Now that air pollution has escalated to such dangerous levels, city officials have blamed temporary weather conditions and agricultural practices. Mahesh Sharma, a member of India’s Central Pollution Board, told the Press Trust of India that the rising pollution levels are due to hot winds. The Delhi High Court focused the solution on the farming sector and announced that the rise in poor air quality on stubble burning, or the burning of the tops of harvested grains. In yet another temporary solution, Delhi food and health administrator Imran Hussain said in a tweet that the government may sprinkle water over the city to reduce the air particles. Nevertheless, Delhi has become a dangerous place for residents. In a tweet following the city’s public health emergency announcement, Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said “Delhi has become a gas chamber.” And as the smog accumulated, the short-term solutions have not matched the eminent threat. Even with the nation’s most centered plan to halt stubble burning, the Indian government has failed to recognize the broader scope of pollution in the country. India has ranked the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, due not only to the burning of crops, but also to the low fuel quality and chemical emissions from vehicles. Particle matter 2.5, which have circulated the air in India, are produced by biomass, fuel emissions and dust in the wind. When consumed by humans, the PM 2.5 have presented heightened risks for disease, with 36% rise in lung disease. According to study from the Institute of Technology in India, in 45% of the country’s districts, 50% of the population has been exposed to levels of 2.5 PM above the safe limit. Due to the continual detrimental air quality, the life expectancy in India has plummeted. The average life expectancy of a person in India has not only shrunk by 3.3 years, but in more populated cities, the life expectancy has been slashed even further. In New Delhi, life expectancy has decreased by 6.6 years—which is double the national rate. However, the state of environment risk in India has reached more than just poor air quality. According to a report from the Environmental Performance Index, India has held all five risk areas with unsafe sanitation, unsafe water, ozone pollution, particulate matter pollution and household air pollution. Although the country has announced initiatives to reduce nitrogen emissions and use of diesel in cars last year, the air pollution has persisted. India’s dilemma with its air pollution crisis has lied in solutions that are too little and too late. Even with measures to reduce air pollution from vehicles, the sheer number of cars in India have made it difficult to develop measures to reduce chemical emissions. According to data from Indian government, there are more than 210 million registered motor vehicles. India has also boosted its car manufacturing. India’s car industry grew 7.9% in 2016 with the production of more than three million vehicles, according to a report from the international automobile organization OICA. Agriculture, another industry that has contributed to the ongoing pollution, has also grown as a massive component of India’s economy. According to a study by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), over 58% of rural homes depend on farming for their livelihood. India has also ranked as the world’s largest producer of milk and the world’s second largest producer of fruits. Due to the scope of these economies, the implementation of climate change measures that would reduce production would also reap harmful effects on the country. In order for air pollution to subside long-term, the government would have to spearhead major and rapid changes—adaptations that would entail sizable and costly cuts to its core industries. Despite the fact that India’s government has not launched a comprehensive plan, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recommended measures for reducing air pollution. OECD said in a report that plans could include “incentivizing or requiring the adoption of end-of-pipe technologies that can reduce pollution or of cleaner technologies, especially for energy combustion, as well as implementing air quality standards, automobile emission standards, fuel quality standards, and emission taxes, among others.” Indeed, India’s air pollution solution may lie in the art of incentivizing and making cleaner options more appealing. With the country’s population at risk, the government could begin making practices that damage the air quality expensive and launch a plan that could shift the nation toward clean energy. Regardless of the policies that should be taken, the country is undoubtedly experiencing a public health crisis that will continue to cripple citizens’ health and take lives. If the recent levels in New Delhi demonstrate anything, it’s the lack of government intervention into a disaster that could make the country inhabitable.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.