Youth In India, Pakistan Are Busy Fighting Each Other. But Their Real Enemy Is Environment
The recent set of tragic events between India and Pakistan unearthed the hidden potential in our people, particularly the youth, to ‘fight back’. The zeal to defend and save the ‘motherland’ was appreciable in its own right. Setting aside matters such as the spread of false rumors and hateful speech by certain quarters, one thing that stood clear was that our citizens could express impressive solidarity and strength when our nations are threatened. The noble citizens of both countries should realize that there awaits another imminent threat waiting to be addressed with the same zeal, if not greater – the environmental challenges.
‘The World’s Dirtiest Air Is In India’, read a headline on Bloomberg on February 5! It, among other news outlets, quoted a recent study, conducted by Greenpeace and AirVisual, that has listed 7 Indian and two Pakistani cities (Faisalabad, followed by Lahore) with the worst air quality in the world! New Delhi has been listed as the ‘worst capital city’ when it comes to air pollution. Other studies have also shown that a great number of people in India and Pakistan are exposed to unhealthy air.
The gravity of this situation cannot be overemphasised: Breathing fresh instills life while breathing ‘toxic air’ invites ‘death’ – as simple as that. Ranging from acute illnesses such as breathing difficulties, cough, burning of eyes and headache to chronic illnesses such as asthma, COPD, emphysema, depression, cardiac diseases, stroke, lung and other various cancers are on the list of potential diseases that we are constantly being exposed to.
The World Bank estimates that Pakistan’s outdoor air pollution leads to 22, 000 premature adult deaths every year. In a recent study, Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) estimated that the average life of Pakistanis has been reduced by more than two years due to the air pollution (even up to 5 years for cities like Kasur and Sheikhupura).
Dr Arvind Kumar, who is practicing as a chest surgeon in New Delhi since 1988, wrote an Op-Ed in Washington Post on Feb 13 highlighting these issues where he made some disturbing observations:
‘Over the years, I have witnessed a change in the color of patients’ lungs from pink to black. It is a rarity for me to see a normal pink lung in any adult patient today. In essence, there are no nonsmokers in India, given our wretchedly polluted air. Newborns in many of our cities become “smokers” from their very first breath’.
Thereafter, he also mentioned the growing incidence of stage-IV lung cancers among youngsters. Thus, he called out for a declaration of ‘public health emergency’ to counter this!
An unhealthy community is not ‘fit’ for building a strong society. Yet this was just a glimpse of our air pollution crisis. And there are numerous issues on the list. The issues range from water crisis (Pakistan is the third most affected country by an acute shortage of water, as per an IMF study) to polluted drinking water, waste collection to the challenge of disposing the waste, sanitation issues, soil pollution and the list goes on.
These issues also result in significant financial losses as Rafay Alam Khan, an environmental lawyer and activist from Lahore, cited in an interview last year ‘The Word Bank estimated that on a monetary basis, Pakistan was losing approximately a Billion Rupees in a day – almost 6 billion US dollars a year – due to environmental related issues such as pollution.’
We are turning a blind eye to serious environmental issues. We are allowing the destruction of our ‘beloved’ motherland(s) while vowing to crush the transgressors in our neighborhood. If we are breathing in toxic air to shout out ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and ‘Jai Hind’, are we really achieving anything?
In many western countries, youngsters (including kids and teenagers) are coming out on the streets to fight against climate change to save the mother earth. Isn’t it time that our youngsters, social media ‘warriors’ and adults diverted their activism from a war between ourselves towards a war against our common enemy – the environmental challenges? Addressing these urgent issues might not attract the angry voters but it can definitely play a role in changing the course of an impending catastrophe.
The author is a Medical Doctor based in Pakistan. While Pakistan is his home country, India has been his ancestral home. He tweets @DrSyedTalhaShah