In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) published data on cities around the world that were found to have the highest concentration of small particulate measurements. Of the 12 cities with the highest levels of pollution in the world, 11 cities are in India. As data continues to emerge on this country’s devastating pollution problem, India has adopted a Whole-of-Government approach to reduce their role in human and environmental health problems relating to pollution.
Overview of Pollution in India
The health effects of both acute and chronic exposure to air pollution include a significantly greater risk for exposed individuals to acquire heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, lung cancer, acute respiratory infections and worsened asthma. In 2017 alone, India’s abhorrent air quality was found to be responsible for 1.2 million deaths throughout the nation. Life expectancy for Indian citizens has been reduced by 5.3 years as a result of air pollution. Much of India’s air pollution is attributed to the continuous release of harmful emissions by industries and cars, as well as by the burning of crop residue, wood and charcoal.
In terms of India’s role in perpetuating plastic pollution, it is estimated that India consumes 16.5 million tons of plastic each year. Of this amount, 43% of the plastic is used for single-use packaging material that will ultimately be discarded with the garbage. In addition to its overreliance on single-use plastic products and lack of adequate recycling programs, many Indian states have failed to provide data on their plastic consumption and disposal since 2016.
Reversing Air Pollution
In 2015, India’s Federal Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Steering Committee on Air Pollution and Health Related Issues submitted the nation’s first official report in which the health effects of air pollution were directly addressed. In this report that was submitted to India’s federal government, committee members proposed various measures that they believed would provide India with the largest reduction in air pollution to improve overall health of exposed individuals.
Of the 12 proposals included in this report include the following recommendations:
- Clean energy sources for household stoves
- Increase public transportation accessibility
- Reduce road traffic by increasing fuel taxes and parking fees
- Incorporate congestion charges on vehicles
- Creation of vehicle-free zones and cycle paths
India’s Plan to Eliminate Plastic
India’s newly re-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in June of 2018 that all single-use plastic will be abolished in India by the year 2022. Some of the initial steps that India has taken to achieve this goal include replacing plastic cutlery, water bottles, teacups and carry bags with steel items in their government offices, which has already taken places in the Indian state of Kerala. Kerala’s Suchitwa Mission, which is a group of 28 fisherman, as well as several other local groups in Chennai and Versova, have also pledged to fish plastic water out of India’s numerous water bodies to preserve their marine ecosphere.
Other Indian states including Goa, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Punjab have imposed bans on plastic usage. Sikkim, which is the second smallest state in India, has been a leader in the crackdown on plastic usage. In fact, Sikkim became the first Indian state to abolish the use of disposable plastic bags in 1998. Furthermore, in 2016, Sikkim banned the use of single-use plastic water bottles, Styrofoam and thermocol disposable food products in all state government offices.
Although the state of India’s air and plastic pollution may have previously appeared bleak, the efforts that are being taken by federal, state and local groups are proving that this nation has the motivation to create a monumental change in the world.
References and Further Reading
- “Why India’s air pollution is so horrendous”- Vox
- “Air pollution in India caused 1.2 million deaths last year” – Quartz
- “India takes steps to curb air pollution” – World Health Organization
- “India is generating much more plastic waste than it reports. Here’s why” – IndiaSpend
- “India pledges to beat plastic pollution by 2022: 5 steps that are fast tracking it already!” – The Better India