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'Failure of governance': India, China account for 54% pollution-related deaths globally

By Vikas Parsaram Meshram*  

A recent report jointly prepared by UNICEF and the independent research organization Health Effects Institute has been released, and the statistics within it are alarming. It states that in 2021, air pollution caused the deaths of 2.1 million Indians, including 169,000 children who hadn't yet fully experienced life. These figures are indeed distressing and raise questions about why there hasn't been more serious effort in this direction, putting policymakers to shame. 
It isn't just India struggling with the crisis of environmental pollution. In China, 2.3 million people died due to air pollution during the same period. The total number of deaths worldwide due to air pollution this year is estimated to be around 8.1 million. 
When considering the total number of air pollution-related deaths in India and China, this accounts for 54% globally, which is concerning. This reflects the failure of our systems, poverty, and the neglect of pollution control by the government and administration. 
Most people are unaware of the main causes of this spreading pollution and how to prevent it. The increasing number of private vehicles on the roads, the use of substandard fuel, ongoing construction activities, lack of regulation of harmful gases, and smoke from industries are among the many causes of rising air pollution. 
Moreover, the unscientific construction of residential and commercial buildings is also a contributing factor. Unplanned settlements and the construction of high-rise buildings have disrupted the natural flow of air, which is essential for preventing air pollution. It is well known that the government attempts to shirk its pollution control responsibilities by blaming farmers for burning crop waste.
Environmental pollution is the biggest problem of the 21st century. Increasing population, industrialization, urbanization, and unplanned development are exacerbating this issue. Pollution is contaminating the land, sky, water, and air. But in the blind race for modern development, the current and future generations are paying a heavy price, and no one seems to care.
Scientists are constantly engaged in new research to understand polluted air and its effects. However, recent research has shown that there is a deep connection between air pollution and crime. Increased air pollution leads to increased anxiety among people. 
The rise in stress and cortisol hormone affects brains. They become restless and engage in unethical criminal behaviour. According to researchers, air pollution not only impacts health but is also responsible for unethical behaviour. Experimental studies indicate that air pollution is physically and mentally linked to our unethical behaviour. 
Evidence from current research suggests that air pollution has a high potential to increase bad behaviour. Children exposed to air pollution during childhood may experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues during adolescence, affecting their entire lives and hindering their development. 
High levels of air pollution can cause small, toxic particles to enter the developing brain, causing inflammation. This damages the parts of the brain responsible for emotions and decision-making. This study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, raises awareness about the importance of clean air and the need for greenery in urban areas.
Numerous studies over time have shown that air pollution can affect brain activity. Along with increasing crime, it severely deteriorates mental health. A study from March 2019 also found that adolescents exposed to toxic, polluted air are at higher risk of mental disorders, such as hearing voices and fear. This creates difficulties in learning and understanding, reducing children's intelligence levels. 
A study in Shanghai found that high concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air increase the rate of hospital admissions for mental disorders. Most studies have shown that air pollution increases stress and anxiety. Research at Columbia Business School in New York found that higher levels of air pollution are associated with higher crime rates. 
Dr. Jackson G. Lu, the author of the research, says that air pollution not only deteriorates people's health but also their morality. We found that toxic air components harm health and the environment and also affect people's behavior.
High levels of air pollution can cause small, toxic particles to enter the developing brain, causing inflammation
According to a research paper written by Jessie Burkhart and colleagues at Colorado State University and the University of Minnesota, breathing polluted, dirty air is associated with aggressive behavior. Highly polluted air can increase the risk of suicide among teenagers within seven days. 
Studies on adolescent health have also confirmed that polluted air negatively affects adolescents' blood pressure. Based on these studies, researchers concluded that reducing air pollution could decrease juvenile delinquency. The effects of polluted air extend beyond known impacts on health and the environment. 
Yet, many countries have high levels of air pollution. According to the World Health Organization, nine out of ten people worldwide are now forced to breathe toxic air. However, based on all research and studies, we have sufficient evidence that poor air quality is detrimental to our physical and mental health. 
To tackle this issue, national and local governments must take concrete actions to develop more sustainable transportation, efficient and renewable energy production and use, and waste management to protect the future and future generations of our country. 
The UNICEF report states that of the 2.1 million people who died due to air pollution in 2021, unfortunately, 169,400 were children, most of whom were under the age of five. Due to the harmful effects of pollution on pregnant women, children are born prematurely, and their physical development is not proper. This can lead to low weight, asthma, and lung diseases in children. 
It is concerning that more children die from air pollution in our country than in extremely poor countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia. The crisis of air pollution-related deaths has increased due to global warming and the climate change crisis. For India, with a population of 1.4 billion, this crisis is very significant. 
Air pollution is the leading cause of death in South Asia, which is concerning. Following this are deaths caused by high blood pressure, malnutrition, and tobacco use. Indeed, due to poverty and economic inequality, a large population is engaged in subsistence activities, prioritizing food over protection from pollution. 
Additionally, lax laws, administrative negligence, and lack of public awareness prevent serious initiatives to curb air pollution. Immediate measures such as controlling the quality of vehicles, implementing odd-even vehicle schemes, banning production in factories, and halting construction activities are taken. 
However, the system remains inactive for the rest of the year. Why are these policies not developed with a year-round objective in mind?
---
*Freelance journalist

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