Climate Change and Public health in Covid times

The silver lining of the ongoing COVID chaos is the reduction in pollution level due to reduced anthropogenic activities as per the recent data available all around our newsfeed. The world has been grappling against Climate Change for decades now, but the last few weeks have really highlighted the impact our way of life has had on the planet, reflecting clearly on our unsustainable way of living. While we burn coal for electricity or travel in fossil fuel run modes of air, road or rail transport we cause immense air pollution and while we generate large amounts of wastewater and waste, we release tons of methane (23 times more potent that CO2). Untreated waste water is also polluting our rivers and water. This shows that these factors not only contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change but also to depleting public health. Reduced immunity due to air and water pollution then makes us more vulnerable to attacks by virus such as Covid19.

These poignant data on air pollution and MSW in India are disheartening and hence appropriate measures need to be taken in an effective and efficient manner. When we deploy measures for climate change mitigation, including clean technologies, sustainable processes, we reduce air and water pollution that can have a positive impact on our Public Health and increase our immunity to fight diseases. For example, some of the key by products managing and treating wastewater and waste (mainly municipal solid waste, biomedical waste) – is energy, water, manure/compost, reduced air and water pollution. But how many of our cities and private developments are managing this well in India?

In order to avoid getting back to the obnoxious environment and to enthral harmony in life without fear, it is much needed to utilize this opportunity to take sustainable initiatives for the future. This is the right time now for the government to launch a “lockdown” on improper management of resources and the environment. Just like our country’s leadership put in the lockdown or implemented demonetization with an iron fist – we need to just do it now for bio and environment solutions.

Some industries may suffer, our usual way of life may change, but we have to do it before the next Covid virus or bacteria makes us do it.

Air pollution caused by industries also needs to be curbed with an iron fist given that multiple solutions exist for their monitoring and mitigation.

Just like we are driving digital transformation and the IT sector, we need to drive and scale bio and environment technologies. It is the right time for us to act and support the public and private sector along with financing community to come together to deploy solutions at scale that will impact climate change and public health.

Data on noxious Air pollution in India:

The Global Alliance on Health and Pollution report in 2019 revealed that India tops the list in Pollution-related deaths for the year 2017 with around 2.5 million deaths, followed by China with 2 million deaths. And another report about the cities with exorbitant air pollution scenario succinct that our Indian cities are grappling with air pollution.  Three of our Indian cities even secured the top 10 most polluted cities around the world for the year 2019, in which our Indian Capital Delhi tops the list with Air Quality Index (AQI) value of 527, followed by Kolkata at 5th position (AQI=161) and Mumbai at 9th position (AQI=153). The report from AIIMS in the year 2017 stated that the number of non-smokers diagnosed with Lung cancer is increasing exponentially and other research reports concluded its association with air pollution.

Poor air quality impacts on women & children:

Tata Memorial hospital also came with the report about the non-smokers diagnosed with Lung cancer were 52% in the year 2012, in which 88% of them were women! Pregnant ladies exposed to air pollution may deliver babies which can have higher risks of getting diagnosed with Cardiovascular diseases, Hypertension, etc., Child morbidity and mortality rate is increasing in densely populated urban Indian cities due to air pollution. Around 25% of Children in Bengaluru were diagnosed with Asthma in the year 2009, whereas it was only 9% in 1979 – according to the study done by Lakeside Medical Centre and Hospital.

Data on India’s Municipal Solid Waste:

It is estimated that the Waste Management sector in India will generate a business of worth US $14 Billion by 2025 [Business wire].

Municipal Solid Waste: India generates 60-70 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste every year and the generation rate is increasing 5% annually. MSW holds around 75% of India’s total waste generated. CPCB revealed that in India about 70% MSW has been collected daily, in which only 15% is processed or retreated and the rest of them ends up in landfill.

About 50-60% of MSW comprises of wet waste or organic waste as per Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bengaluru. If it is segregated properly, then it can reduce the volume of waste ending up in landfill. Exorbitant release of methane due to anaerobic decomposition of mixed waste increases the global warming potential 23 times than the Carbon dioxide release. Plastic waste contributes to 8% of MSW (as per CPCB). People lack awareness that the plastic can be recycled 7-9 times before it cannot be further recycled.