Health as the Focus of Air Pollution Policy | 16th November 2022 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about making  current environmental policies in India, both legislative as well as institutional, health-centric to effectively deal with pollution, especially air pollution.

Relevance:

  • GS3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment;
  • GS2: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

What's the crux of the article?

  • Worsening air quality is now a harsh daily reality in many Indian cities.
  • This has a serious impact on our health, particularly that of vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the elderly.
  • This implies that considering the “harmful effects of pollution on human health” must be an integral component of pollution-control strategies.
  • Despite the fact that the primacy of protecting public health is clearly stated in the statement of objects and reasons of India's key environmental laws, this important aspect is unfortunately missing from the constitutions of our environmental regulators, expert groups, and decision-making entities.
  • Thus Health must be turned into a feature and eventually a function of air pollution policy.

What does it mean to make health a feature of air pollution policy?

  • First, consider health and epidemiological evidence when developing pollution policies and setting clean air targets.
  • Second, experts from a variety of disciplines and sectors, such as epidemiology, environment, energy, transportation, public policy, and economics, should be included in pollution-related committees.
  • For instance, the Ministry of Health's Steering Committee on Air Pollution, which included both of the aforementioned points.

What are the  harmful impacts of air pollution on populations?

  • Exposure to high levels of air pollution can cause a variety of adverse health outcomes.
  • It increases the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer.  Both short and long term exposure to air pollutants have been associated with health impacts.  
  • More severe impacts affect people who are already ill.  Children, the elderly and poor people are more susceptible.  
  • The most health-harmful pollutants – closely associated with excessive premature mortality –  are fine PM2.5 particles that penetrate deep into lung passageways.

What is particulate matter, or PM?

  • Particulate matter is the term for particles found in the air, including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets.
  •  Large concentrations of particulate matter are typically emitted by sources such as diesel vehicles and coal-fired power plants.
  • There are two types:
    • Particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10
    • Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5)
  • Because of their small size (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair), fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs.

What can citizens do to protect themselves? (WHO)

  • Fighting air pollution is everybody’s responsibility. We all need to do more, a lot more. Swiftly and proactively to reduce air pollution. Concerted and coordinated efforts with active involvement of all the sectors is imperative. This includes the Government (national, state and local governments), cities, community at large and individuals.
  • To national governments: reduce emissions and set national standards that meet WHO air quality guidelines. Invest in research and education around clean air and pollution – they are an essential tool.
  • To cities and local communities: Public policies across sectors must factor in public health from the beginning, followed up with sufficient data and tools to assess them.
  • To individuals: Continue to stand up for your right to healthy and sustainable environments. Hold your governments accountable.
  • All of us – in government, business, and individual – we are all accountable. Think and rethink, about the way you live and consume and make sustainable choices for yourself, your children and your children’s children.

Way Forward:

  • The frequency and magnitude of air pollution have undoubtedly changed, as demonstrated by increased instances of raising health concerns; therefore, in order to deal with it effectively, we must also transform our policies to make them health-centric.



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