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Health as the focus of air pollution policy

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Governance/ Environment Conservation

 

Source: The Hindu

 Direction: This is from an editorial article. A few unique points can be noted down.

 Context: The deterioration of winter air quality in north India has once again brought to light the negative impacts of air pollution on health, particularly among the most vulnerable in society.

Negative impacts of air pollution on health: According to the Lancet, excessive levels of pollution are responsible for 17.8% of all deaths and 11.5% of respiratory, cardiovascular and other related diseases in India in 2019.

Gaps in India’s environmental policies:

  • Isolated nature of policy-making: Whether it is stubble burning or thermal power plant emissions, decisions are made without any consideration of their potential effects on health.
  • A lack of understanding of health among policymakers: As a result, policies are created and implemented with little cognisance of the effect it has on society’s health.
  • Underrepresentation of health sector representatives in policymaking: As per the Commission for Air Quality Management, they comprise less than 5% of the members of State Pollution Control Boards.

Recommendations/initiatives:

  • An exposure-centred view to policy: This means, prioritising initiatives that contribute the most to reducing exposure and hence generating health benefits.
  • Revising National ambient air quality standards (NAAQS): To include not only local conditions but also the impact of exposure on vulnerable groups.

 

Way ahead:

  • This public health emergency has prompted calls for health to be prioritised in the development of air pollution policies.
  • For this, health should be at the core of air pollution policy, rather than one of the several equally relevant facets.
  • Front-line air pollution regulators to be more sensitive to the health needs of society.

 

Conclusion:

  • To primarily focus on health benefits, policymakers must include experts from epidemiology, environment, energy, transportation, public policy and economics.
  • This approach will accelerate climate and air quality measures to limit emissions from the industries that cause the most health damage.

 

Insta Links:

Air Pollution

 

Mains Links:

Q. The worsening winter air quality in north India has yet again brought into public focus the harmful effects of air pollution on our health. This public health emergency has resulted in calls for health to be made central to air pollution policymaking. Critically analyse.

 

Prelims Links:

Consider the following statements:

    1. The National Clean Air Programme aims for a reduction in particulate matter concentrations in cities that don’t meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).
    2. India’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) meet the WHO’s existing standards.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

 

Solution: a)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its first-ever update since 2005 has tightened global air pollution standards in a recognition of the emerging science in the last decade that the impact of air pollution on health is much more serious than earlier envisaged.

 

The move doesn’t immediately impact India as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) don’t meet the WHO’s existing standards. The government has a dedicated National Clean Air Programme that aims for a 20% to 30% reduction in particulate matter concentrations by 2024 in 122 cities, keeping 2017 as the base year for the comparison of concentration. These are cities that don’t meet the NAAQS when calculated from 2011-2015.