Asia’s largest financial stats, China, has long had a reputation for smoggy skies. But these days, neighboring India is fighting the far bigger battle with pollution: it is home to the world’s 10 most polluted cities.
Because of the polluted air, most of them affected by cancer especially lung cancer. Outside the national capital New Delhi, Kusum Tomar knows the personal and economic price of breathing some of the world’s most toxic air. At 29, she learned that pollution was the likely driver of the cancer growing inside in her lungs. She had never touched a cigarette. Her husband Vivek sold land to pay for her treatment. They borrowed money from family. Their savings slowly disappeared.
“The India government is thinking about the economic growth of our country, but people are dying of diseases or suffering from diseases,” Ms Tomar said. “How can you grow economically when, within your country, your citizens are facing economic problems because of the air pollution?” its still a big question.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is now pushing new initiatives it says are starting to curtail hazardous air. Crops are burned during this season and millions of fireworks go off during Diwali, usually pushing air pollution to hazardous levels. But any gains would have to be enough to override other facets of India’s rampant growth, from the dust left by thousands of new construction sites to exhaust from millions of new cars.
When Arvind Kumar of New Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital started as a chest surgeon in 1988, 90 percent of his lung cancer patients were middle-aged male smokers. Now, he says, 60 percent of his cases are non-smokers, while half are women. Tiny airborne particles have been linked to ailments from asthma to heart disease and lung cancer, contributing to the deaths of more than 1.1 million Indians in 2015, according to the nonprofit Health Effects Institute.
Meanwhile, after two decades of expansion that reshaped the global economy, China is orchestrating a shift to less-polluting services and consumption. So while its cities still see smoggy days, they’ve also seen improvements.
Modi’s government has also promoted solar power related equipments, improved emission standards and handed out millions of cooking gas canisters to reduce kitchen fires inside homes. Officials have also tried to ban farmers from burning crops. But environmentalists are still waiting for more concrete targets from a national clean air plan that has yet to be officially launched.