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Taking Our Breath Away
This story appears in the issue of School LIVE.
Only one thing differentiates living beings from non-living beings - the breath. Breathing is a gift of nature that keeps us alive. The most precious things are those that we cannot see or touch; and the air we breathe is one such, but we never think about it.

With unsustainable industrial development and over-exploitation of nature, the air has become dangerously polluted. According to a report released by the World Health Organisation in 2018, nine out of ten people are breathing polluted air, thereby resulting an estimated seven million people dying every year because of it. The severity of the problem needs immediate attention and not enough has been done. The air doesn’t know boundaries; it belongs to everyone. So, all are equally responsible for keeping it clean. Are you doing your bit?


A Global Problem

No matter who we are, where we live or what we do, air pollution is inescapable. Did you know that microscopic pollutants in the air (almost invisible to the naked eye) can easily slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart, and brain? 


Consider this:

  • 4.2 million deaths occur every year as a result of exposure to outdoor air pollution

  • 3.8 million deaths result due to household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels 

  • 91% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds WHO guideline limits. 

  • 93% of the children around the world are living in areas where air pollution levels are above the WHO guidelines. 

  • Exposure to air pollution contributes to a wide range of adverse health conditions from asthma to lung cancer. 

Suffocating India

Today, India is in the middle of a pollution crisis. Every annual report shows how progressively India’s atmosphere has been polluted. 


According to WHO’s 2016 report, 14 out of the world’s 20 most polluted cities belong to India. In the report, Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 17 times higher PM2.5 level than the safe limit. Other Indian cities that were in the list of the top ten most polluted cities were Faridabad, Gaya, Varanasi, Patna, country’s capital Delhi, Lucknow, Agra, Gurugram and Muzaffarpur. 


In a 2018 report by IQAir AirVisual  

  • All regions of NCR were named as the world's most polluted cities. 

  • 7 out of the top 10 most polluted cities on the list and 15 of the top twenty are in India. 

  • 25 out of the top fifty most polluted cities in the world are also in India.

  • Gurugram fared as the most polluted city in the world followed by Ghaziabad, Faridabad, and Bhiwadi. 


Hence, India has been considered as the world’s third most polluted country, after its neighbours Bangladesh and Pakistan.


Delhi - The Pollution Capital

Following the week of Diwali this year, the pollution levels in Delhi NCR shot up from ‘unhealthy’ to ‘severe’ conditions. So much so that the Delhi government had to issue health advisory for everyone to remain indoors or wear cloth masks if they had to step out. Schools in Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad were also ordered to remain closed for a certain period of time. 


One of the major reasons for this depleting air quality was the smoke from the stubble being burnt by the farmers Haryana and Punjab. These farm fires eventually clouded the air with a grey smog, causing eye irritation, burning sensation in the throat, chronic cough and a plethora of life threatening diseases. Doesn’t this sound scary?


It’s not surprising then that in a country like India, air pollution is the third-highest cause of death among all health risks, ranking just above smoking, asthma and malaria. Each year, more and more people die from air pollution-related diseases. In fact, one-third of the deaths that occur due to heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, diabetes, chronic lung diseases are all caused by air pollution.


Environmental Effects

Air pollution is also a major contributor to climate change as many of these pollutants cause global warming. Pollution has a direct effect on the impending disaster from the melting of ice from glaciers and icebergs to displacement and loss of habitat. 

In the last 150 years, humans have raised the level of carbon dioxide higher than what it has been for hundreds of thousands of years. 

Methane is another greenhouse gas. An increase in the amount of methane gas in the air has disastrous effects and is also responsible for deteriorating the ozone layer. During the burning of fossil fuels, harmful gases like sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere. When it rains, these harmful gases combined with rain end up as acid rain that can cause great damage to the health of human beings, animals, crops, and monuments. 


Indoor Air Pollution

Air pollution inside a room, house, or a workplace is called indoor air pollution and is generated by burning fuel such as wood, kerosene or coal. Burning fuels indoors for cooking or heating in poorly ventilated spaces is the biggest cause of indoor air pollution. Paint supplies and household cleaning materials also contribute to air pollution as they emit toxic chemicals.

Major Causes

The burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to air pollution. Harmful pollutants such as carbon dioxide get released in the atmosphere because of fossil fuel like coal and petroleum, leading to gradual increase in the temperature globally. 


Agricultural activities also cause air pollution as using fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides pollute the environment by emitting harmful chemicals. Burning of stubble is a major reason for pollution in the northern states of India.


Manufacturing industries release a large number of pollutants and chemicals that pollute the air. Most of the industries release carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and organic compounds that are dangerous for our health.


Mining releases billions of dust particles and chemicals in the air, causing deteriorating health effects on the people working in the mine and those living in the neighbouring areas.


Let’s Do Our Part


Many drops make an ocean. Our individual efforts can have an impact on reducing pollution. By adopting small yet significant habits on a regular basis, we can easily do our bit in creating a better air for us to breathe in.


Commute wisely

Walk or ride a bicycle whenever feasible. Not only will it keep the air clean but will also be beneficial for your health. For longer distances, choose public transport instead of private vehicles.


Keep Your Car Tuned

You may not own a car but know many who do. Pass on these tips to your parents and friends who use a car. Buy efficient, low polluting car models. Turn off the engine at the  traffic signal. Accelerate gradually and maintain constant speed to save fuel. Combine errands into one trip. Get your car serviced regularly. Clean the car’s engine properly to reduce the emission of pollutants. Replace the car's air filter. 


Save Energy

A large number of fossil fuel is burnt to produce electricity. So, by saving electricity, we save fossil fuels and, as a result, decrease pollution. Switch off all the fans and lights when you are going out of a room. Use electrical appliances efficiently. Use the air conditioner only when it’s required and purchase energy-saving appliances. A lot of energy is used in the production and manufacturing of different products and materials. Hence, we should adapt to the system of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. 


Plant Trees

Trees absorb carbon dioxide, harmful airborne particles, and gaseous pollutants.  This improves air quality and contributes to a cleaner environment. In fact, carbon monoxide produced by a 26,000-mile car journey can be absorbed by an acre of trees in one year. Therefore, trees lower the greenhouse effect and can eventually simmer the monster under our bed - global warming.


Small things, bigger impact

Avoid burning trash, leaves, plastic, clothes and other materials. Use environmentally safe cleaning products whenever possible. Reduce the consumption of meat and dairy products as these contribute to emitting harmful methane emissions. 


So, if everybody does even one-fourth of these things every day, the environment would benefit collectively. Spread the word and create awareness among others as well. Raising our voices and compelling the government to take major steps on the issue is the only way we could save this earth, the air and, of course, ourselves.

Dive into the world of understanding Carbon Footprints.



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