His Story

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Facing a Catastrophe, Silently?

Why should be a story of an individual cancer patient be of particular interest to anyone, and especially in a nation like India? After all, individuals are mere statistics. However the case we have here is instructive, as it represents the life threatening and destructive processes that we have set up on our self, in our quest to achieve material comforts and ape the West.

This cancer is closely linked with environmental pollution. There are numerous articles, movies and media which we may have seen or read about at some point in our lives – and yet public awareness about these issues remains limited and often ineffective in order to “get things moving”.

The poor, often more than the rich are the ones who suffer the most from rising environmental degradation. The elite of our nation have failed to internalize the ecological principle that for every small amount of poison we put back in environment, comes back to us, to the rich and the poor alike – into our air, our water and the food we eat. In our quest for increasing the rate of economic growth through rampant industrialization and consumerism, we are failing to recognize that it would be “us” who will have the foot the bill of environmental degradation. Ironically, while consumer durables like mobile phones, laptops, and other synthetic and artificial needs are easily available now, we cannot find clean air to breathe, clean water to drink or good, nutritive food to eat.

These poisons slowly seep into our bodies and take years to show up as cancer, as immune system disorders, or a hormonal or reproductive system disorders – affecting even the foetus. Is it not, therefore, imperative, for the society and the humanity as a whole to find a way to ensure that our urges for economic growth and material comforts are in consonant with the needs for natural and human health? For our lopsided “growth” and “development” is ruining the planet, our ecosystems, and in turn the very habitats we reside on – and the sources of our survival. In short, while we have advanced technologically and invented many devices for human comfort, we have failed to achieve a balance with nature – both inner and outer. A situation which is ripe for ever decreasing quality of human life in all fronts. Isn’t this something which we own to ourselves, our fellow creatures and to all our children? How is that we don’t have foresight to see the trap that we have set our self in, albeit with the co-operation and direction of all our “experts” and “commissions”?

To give an idea to the reader about the intensity of the relationship that the planet’s habitats share with each other, this example will be instructive. In 1995, researchers found that all the way upto North Pole, Arctic lakes were teeming with fishes highly contaminated with fishes Dangerous levels of pesticide Toxaphene were found in the lakes by these Canadian researchers – who were looking for the causes for pollution in surface sea water. They were baffled first by the presence of Toxaphene – for it had been banned in Canada more than a decade back. How did it make it way back into the Arctic Ocean?

Answer: The above scenario is the result of a process called “global distillation process” in which chemicals are vaporized from soils and transported back by wind to Cold Latitudes – chemicals sprayed in Asian and African countries were carried back to the North Pole! These chemicals later condense out, and through food chains enter the bodies of plants and animals alike.

Coming back to the issue of pollution: Cumulative effects of pollutants accumulating in water and air for years can result in reduced immunity, according to Industrial Toxicology Research Centre(ITRC).Thus environmental contamination can show up in the diseases afflicting population. Yet, there is no real concern in Indian mass or elite about clear air, water or naturally grown food – all of which are not just bacteriologically but also chemically contaminated now - and more so in our cities and industrial clusters

And the reason for “no – concern”? Our short sightedness, and our emphasis on short terms fixes and results than on long term implications. While bacteriological contamination shows up in acute epidemics and hence leads to “Breaking News” on our publicity –savvy news channels and public, chemical contamination takes years and years to show up in form of hormonal and reproductive disorders. But is this a good reason for ignoring this issue completely?

Unless we have very solid and strong campaign against pollution at all levels, and make efforts to inform the public about the health threats that it faces, there will be no pressure on anyone to do anything – neither on the regulatory authorities nor on the public to do something to protect the environment. But our inaction cannot be and will not be a reason for environmental disasters not to befall us.

Tailpiece – Mumbai, the financial centre of India, and teeming with a population of 1.2 crore is a classic example of lopsided growth Setting apart the fact that it teems with number of our "experts", and has number of “lakhpatis” and “crorepatis” – the air is so polluted that inhaling it is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigar everyday!

According to Maharashtra Pollution Control Board(MPCB), 75 percent of rivers in Maharashtra are polluted by industry. A good example is that of Pimpri, which has taken its toll on the river Mulla near Pune. The river is so polluted that it is not even suitable for survival of crabs, considered some of the toughest creatures when it comes to surviving water pollution. A 1997 study by University of Pune observed that the water of the river just before it entered Pimpri was potable, while at the point it left Pimpri, it was highly polluted. Yet there seems to be hardly any notable movement or protest against industrial pollution. And if there is any resistance, it either fizzles out in face of an insensitive government, or people involved in it abandon it halfway.

No comments:

Post a Comment