Context: Stalking the efforts to revive the economy in the time of pandemic are two dangers to people’s health — air pollution and greenhouse gases — and a weak public health system.

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  • The current respite from the air pollution due to COVID-19 associated lockdowns, that blankets Indian cities is surely a transitory phase
  • Therefore, India must heed scientists’ warnings tying health disasters to air pollution as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions causing global warming.

Association between pollution levels and death rates

  • Associated casualties worldwide
    • Globally some 9 million premature deaths a year are associated with air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5.
    • The avoided number of early deaths from dirty air quality in recent months in China is estimated to have exceeded the number of those who have died from COVID-19. 
    • For instance, In  Europe, 11,000 air-pollution related deaths were estimated to have been averted since the start of lockdowns.
  • Link between air pollution and COVID-19 infection rates
    • This link has been observed in New York City and the northern provinces of Italy.
    • Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu, in the top tier of pollution concentration, have also seen high COVID-19 associated deaths and infections per thousand people.

Few facts about air pollution in India

  • 14 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India. The air in Ghaziabad, Delhi, and Noida is particularly hazardous. 
  • In 2019, a public health emergency was declared as post-Diwali New Delhi’s air quality index approached 500, the “severe-plus emergency” category.
  • India is ranked as the world’s fifth most vulnerable country to climate change.

Few implications of climate change on India

  • Locust swarms in Jaipur and Gurugram have been linked to climate change. 
  • Emergence of diseases
    • Evidence is also emerging on a link between global warming and the emergence of diseases. 
    • Mosquito-borne diseases in our country have been connected to global warming through both increased rainfall and heatwaves.
  • Despite the plunge during the lockdown, atmospheric carbon emissions are a record high because of past accumulation.

Way ahead

  • Reducing emissions from the transport sector
    • Cities such as Delhi, which is set to overtake Tokyo as the most populous city by 2030, needs to deal with transport, responsible for two-fifth of the PM 2.5 in the skies. 
    • Reforms should encourage public transportation in place of the 10 million vehicles, expand electric vehicles, and provide interconnectivity between the metro and buses.
  • Building a stronger public health system
    • Emission reduction needs to be complemented by a stronger public health system. 
    • Currently, government spending on health is just 1.6% of GDP, low for a lower-middle-income country
    • India also fails the test of readiness for health disasters, according to the 2019 Global Health Security Index. 

Scientific warnings do not indicate the time and place of calamities but do call for confronting air pollution and global warming and strengthening health systems before the next health emergency that is surely going to happen.

Global Health Security (GHS) Index

  • It is a report from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
  • The GHS Index is the first comprehensive assessment and benchmarking of health security and related capabilities across the 195 countries that make up the States Parties to the International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005).
  • The GHS Index assesses countries’ health security and capabilities across six categories, 34 indicators, and 85 sub-indicators. The six categories are as follow:
    • Prevention: Prevention of the emergence or release of pathogens.
    • Detection and Reporting: Early detection and reporting for epidemics of potential international concern.
    • Rapid Response: Rapid response to and mitigation of the spread of an epidemic.
    • Health System: Sufficient and robust health system to treat the sick and protect health workers.
    • Compliance with International Norms: Commitments to improving national capacity, financing plans to address gaps, and adhering to global norms.
    • Risk Environment: Overall risk environment and country vulnerability to biological threats.
  • According to Global Health Security (GHS) Index,2019 India is ranked 57th with a score of 46.5, falling in the middle tier.

Image Source: BreathePA