Bad air: wake up, Karnataka

Karnataka has the worst air quality among southern Indian states, a study published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet has found. And it is claiming many lives. Around 95 people out of every 1 lakh population in the state are dying due to toxic air. This is higher than the national average of 90 deaths per 1 lakh population. Air pollution is an important reason for deaths in our country; an eighth of all deaths here are attributable to air pollution. Data provided by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence confirms the deadly impact of air pollution on health. In Karnataka, for instance, four people are diagnosed with a respiratory disorder every minute and at least one person dies of a respiratory ailment every five days. Reducing air pollution is imperative. As the Lancet study points out, life expectancy in Karnataka could increase by 1.4 years if air pollution reduces in the state.

The study examined both indoor and outdoor pollution, including that due to household fuel, road dust, vehicular and industrial emissions and building demolition debris. It drew attention to the continuing use of solid fuel — coal or biomass such as cow dung, wood or crop residues — for cooking and heating in India. Solid fuels emit health-damaging pollutants and especially when used in poorly ventilated rooms can be deadly. Women and young children are most exposed to the deadly impact of solid fuels since they remain within the household for hours together. Inhaling emissions of solid fuel could lead to acute lower respiratory infections, including pneumonia in young children, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer in women and, to a lesser extent, in men. Karnataka should be worried in this regard as almost 43% of its population continues to use solid fuels.

Air pollution due to vehicle and industrial emissions is well-known. It is a topic that has evoked some amount of attention, concern and even action in urban India. In contrast, the deadly impact of using solid fuels hasn’t got the attention it deserves, largely because this is mainly a rural phenomenon, one that involves and impacts the poorest sections of our society. This needs to change. Public awareness on solid fuel being a silent killer should be increased. Many people in India continue to use solid fuel as it is easily available and inexpensive compared to clean fuel. There is a lot that governments at the state, central and local levels can do to encourage people to shift to clean fuel. In addition to making clean fuel affordable, rural Indians should be encouraged to use improved stoves and chimneys or other forms of ventilation.

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Bad air: wake up, Karnataka

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