London was once known as “the big smoke”. Osaka, Japan, was the “smoke capital.” Los Angeles was the “smog capital of the world”. And most recently, Beijing gained notice as a major pollution capital. While cities are hotbeds for vibrant culture, economic activity and growth, they too often become air pollution capitals during times of rapid development. Delhi, like many of India’s cities, is no different.
During their time of development, each of these major cities felt the pain of pollution: greater rates of sickness, lost work time and lost loved ones. Each chose to confront this pollution, resulting in measurably cleaner skies and healthier citizens. Now, India faces the same choice. While India’s policymakers will need to find the right balance between improvements in health and costs to industry, history shows that, with the right policies, it can improve its citizen’s health and continue to prosper.
The first step is for India to acknowledge that the heavy smog that too often blankets Delhi and other Indian cities is harming citizens’ health. In a recent study, we found high pollution cuts most Indian lives short by three years. Our study is just one of many linking pollution to health threats. In a study commissioned by the Central Pollution Control Board, scientists from India’s top cancer institutes tracked 11,000 schoolchildren in Delhi and other cities for three years. They found that particulate pollution had likely caused irreversible reduction in the children’s lung function. Now, doctors are telling patients to leave the city before their conditions worsen.