India Struggles to Breath


(photo by Rebecca Conway for The New York Times)

Sim Saini

In India for the past month the amount of pollution in the air has spiked dramatically. The levels of bacteria and toxins in the air are 10 times higher than what’s considered safe by the World Health Organization, which causes a threat not just to children but to everyone who breathes the polluted air. 

The government has had to shut down schools and industries powered by coal and other fossil fuels for the second time in two weeks. In cities, like Delhi, vehicle and industrial contamination are major factors of pollution as most cars and factories are found in condensed urban cities. In rural areas, where mainly farms are located, the main cause of pollution is what locals call farm fires, which is the burning of fields to enrich the soil before growing crops again. In terms of technicalities this method is actually called slash-and-burn farming and it is a technique that has been used for a long time because it is an easy and cheap way to enrich fields.  Farming techniques such as these are harmful because they give off heavy and toxic smoke called black carbon. 

  Citizens of India are complaining about how their throats, eyes, and noses are burning, headaches, difficulty breathing and many other symptoms for about two weeks. Many people are getting lung infections and have been pouring into hospitals to get treated. India’s leading chest surgeon, Dr.Arvind Kumar, told CBS news that “breathing the polluted air in Delhi is equivalent to smoking 25 cigarettes. The severe air pollution directly or indirectly causes cancer, stunted brain development, heart attacks, hypertension, birth defects, obesity, pneumonia, diabetes and various other respiratory problems”. A report made by State of India’s Environment showed 12.5 percent of deaths in the county are caused by air pollution. Another study made by doctors showed air pollution was the cause of 500,000 deaths in 2016 and more than 100,000 children under the age of five died because of the toxins in the air.

India’s government has been trying to find a way to decrease the rampant air contamination. Environment journalist Bahar Dutt said “the government only seems to show concern about the toxic air during the winter, when the pollution spikes. A greater sense of urgency from the government is missing.” Despite all their efforts, farmers are continuing to take part in slash-and-burning. The citizens argue that, while the government is trying to get pollution under control, their implementation of the banning of farm fires is not working and is the cause of the people ignoring the new law. Farmers in these rural areas of India don’t have access to new technologies, techniques, and resources that many of their counterparts in developed countries can enjoy. They also don’t have a lot of money, so by taking away slash-and-burning the government takes away one of their only ways of growing crops and in return their source of income. Better advertisement and publicity of this issue as well as help from the government by setting up programs, funding to teach, and giving access to new green technologies and methods might help quell this problem.