The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary (OED, estb.1884) has proclaimed ‘climate emergency’ as the 2019 word of the year. It defines climate emergency as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it”. Subsequently, on November 29, European Union (EU) became the first multilateral bloc of nations to declare climate emergency. The declaration calls on EU member states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030. This is because greenhouse gases and other air pollutants are threatening to penetrate the ozone layer which protects Planet Earth from excessive global warming by the rays of the sun.
Although contemporary India is one of the countries “most vulnerable to climate change”, this nation of 1.3 billion citizens is facing another national environment emergency — toxic air pollution. India has the dubious distinction of hosting 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, with its showpiece national capital Delhi earning the title of the most polluted major city in the world with an air quality index (AQI) of 527 (cf. moderate: 50-100) on November 15. With the onset of winter last month, Delhi and several cities of north India have been enveloped in a thick blanket of smoke with doctors and health experts warning that all citizens of this metropolis are inhaling toxic air which is equivalent to smoking ten cigarettes per day.
Inevitably, though all citizens suffer the adverse health effects of inhaling the noxious air hanging over urban India, the most vulnerable are the nation’s children. According to a damning State of India’s Environment Report (SIER), released earlier this year by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, air pollution annually kills more than 100,000 children below five years across the country. SIER is one of several authoritative reports which warns that children in urban India are most susceptible to lung infections, asthma, childhood obesity and impaired neurodevelopment. In our cover story this month, we highlight the catastrophic threat air pollution poses to the health and well-being of children, and what parents can do to mitigate its ill-effects apart from speaking up to the build the pressure of public opinion to force government to find lasting solutions to the inter-linked dangers of air pollution and climate change.
There’s much else in our year-end issue. Check out our informative Middle Years essay on child rights by senior lawyer Veena Jadhav, and Early Childhood story on encouraging children to value their toys and possessions.