Categories: Air Pollution

How air pollution is killing children in India – and also our potential to fight against it

The new generations are the first to struggle with the effects of air pollution. According to a report by Greenpeace India, based on data from state and central pollution control boards, 47 million children under the age of five live in areas facing severe air pollution. Delhi, along with Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Maharashtra, are the places where children are affected the most.

It’s a National crisis: according to the Environmental Performance Index, released in January, India is the fourth worst country in curbing environment pollution. No surprise that raising a child in Delhi, the world’s most polluted megacity, is quite a challenge.

According to a massive study by the Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute, Delhi’s kids have 1.8 times more respiratory illnesses (sinusitis, running or stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat and common cold with fever) and 2 times more lower respiratory illnesses (frequent dry cough, sputum-producing cough, wheezing breath, breathlessness on exertion, chest pain or tightness and disturbed sleep due to breathing problems).

The results showed a reduction in lung function of 43.5% of the Delhi school kids, compared to 25.7% in the control group. And those are not the only effects. Air pollution is also linked to damaging the growth of children’s working memory and attention capacity, aside from increasing the probability of stunting among them. Today, India has 61 million stunted children, more than any other country.

All these effects prevent kids from reaching their full potential. High pollution is linked to slower growth in the region of the brain where decision-making, social behaviour and complex thinking are believed to happen, says a Spanish study conducted at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. This happens because children and babies are still developing, breathing more air per minute than an adult. However, they are the key to the issues of the present century, and that’s one of the reasons we need to protect them.

Recently, two sisters from Mumbai came up with a innovative solution to improve the air quality in the country. Shivani Khot, 19, and Esha, 14, have chalked out a plan that urges motorists to turn off their engines while waiting at traffic signals. According to their concept, a blue light should be installed on traffic signals stationed in areas that can be identified as traffic bottlenecks or traffic junctions.

The blue light, along with red, yellow and green, will be a message to the motorists to switch off their engines. Ideally, the blue light will turn on five seconds after a signal goes red and will turn off five seconds before the green signal, giving the drivers ample time to switch on their ignitions. The plan, if implemented, can lead to annual preservation of fuel worth Rs 70 crore at eight bustling traffic intersections in Delhi’s National Capital Region alone. Also, close to 28,750 tonnes of carbon that is emitted at eight such traffic intersections in the city could be considerably reduced.

Shivani Khot, a student of psychology at the SK Somaiya College in Mumbai, is an example that the new generations are the answer to a better future. The initiative yielded the top prize at a number of competitions to the sisters, including the ones at the University of Mumbai and IIT-Bombay’s Techfest in 2017.

The hope for the Country relies on our children, and it’s our duty to protect them.

Livia Machado

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