The air in our cities has become a Machiavellian slow poison.
You may step out early one morning, hoping to catch the cool breeze & the fresh air that come as rare as the blood diamond in our cities. However, what your eyes do not see, but your body certainly feels the damaging effects of, is the cloak of poisonous gases that loom over our cities, damaging our organs with every breath we take.
Each year, 7 million lives are lost because our air is too polluted. 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where the air quality is critically below the recommended standards. Poorly organised transport systems, concentration of population in cities that are already bursting at their seams, chasing industrial production as the Holy Grail of economic development, forest fires – to name a few – have over the last 50 years or so built an envelope of poison around us, that we inhale on a daily basis without a second thought.
If you looked at the list of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, Indian cities dominate 45% of the pool. With the current state of affairs, city dwellers dismiss their coughing & wheezing as something trivial & a part of everyday life, when it is a red flag indicating the start of horrendous health complications. Research shows that a mere 6 – 7 hours of exposure to ground ozone (a chemical that is present in marvellous abundance in our air) decreases lung function & leads to respiratory inflammation. What’s worse, is that if you’re someone who already suffers from any kind of respiratory disorder, you’re at more risk than everyone else.
Our nonchalance about the quality of the air we breathe perhaps comes from the fact that the repercussions are not immediate nor are they readily visible.
The damaging effects air pollution can have on our lungs and respiratory system might come logically even to a layman. What we aren’t educated about is the damage that the rest of our body is vulnerable to.
The effects of living in environments as polluted as ours can manifest itself in the form of hairfall, irritable eye & mucous membranes, skin reactions & even a poor digestive system. The more chronic effects include damage to the functions of the liver & spleen, hardening of arteries which leads to all sorts of heart diseases, damage to the neurons in the brain causing disorders such as Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s, & affecting foetal development in pregnant women that have long lasting repercussions such as asthma, autism & hampered brain development.
Yes, at the rate we’re going, air pollution hurts our children before they are even born.
Now more than ever, it is important for us to step back as a collective & understand what we’re doing to our environment & our bodies, as collateral damage during pursuits of economic growth & prosperity. While we must thrive as a society, we can only do our absolute best in good health. The alarm clock is ringing & we have hit snooze one too many times. While there is still time to undo some of the damage we have inflicted, the day is not far when it will be too late for the earth & our bodies.