With a population of over 1.3 billion, India is soon set to dislodge China as the most populous country of the world. While India has one of the fastest growing populations in the world today, it’s far behind most others when it comes to preserving the environment and the ecology. Today, our country is riddled with a number of environmental concerns which have only aggravated in the last few decades. It is high time we tackled these issues head on as turning a blind eye is no solution. Even as India races ahead to join the league of top economies internationally, it must stick to a growth path that is environmentally sustainable. Neglecting the environment can create havoc and the damage done may become irreparable. So we must wake up and smell the coffee before it’s too late.
Following are some of the major environmental concerns India is grappling with today.
Air pollution is one of the worst scourges to have affected India. According to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), by 2040 there are likely to be about 9 lakh premature deaths in the country due to the drastic rise in air pollution in the country. Average life expectancies are likely to go down by about 15 months because of air pollution. India is also home to 11 out of 20 of the most polluted (in terms of air pollution) cities in the entire world. According to the rankings of the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, India ranks 141 out of 180 countries in terms of air pollution.
Rapidly depleting levels of groundwater is one of the biggest threat to food security and livelihood in the country. Accessing the groundwater has become increasingly difficult over the decades. According to news reports, excessive exploitation of limited groundwater resources for irrigation of cash crops such as sugarcane has caused a 6 percentage point decline in the availability of water within 10 metres from ground level. Low rainfall and drought are also reasons for groundwater depletion. The north western and southeastern parts of the country are the worst hit. These are also the regions responsible for most of the country’s agricultural production and food crisis is a natural corollary.
In May 2016, Phalodi in Rajasthan recorded a temperature of 51 degrees Celsius – the highest ever in the country. The increasingly tormenting heat waves in the past years are but an indication that global warming and climate change are real challenges that the country is facing now. With the Himalayan glaciers melting at an alarming rate, floods and other such natural disasters are occurring with increasing frequency. The number of forest fires, floods, earthquakes and such other calamities over the past five years has been unprecedented.
Use of Plastics
Unrestrained use of plastics is another major concern for the country. According to data from the Plastindia Foundation, India’s demand for polymers is expected to go up from 11 million tonnes in 2012-13 to about 16.5 million tonnes in 2016-17. India’s per capita plastic consumption went up from about 4 kg in 2006 to some 8 kg in 2010. By 2020, this is likely to shoot up to about 27 kg. To understand the damage that this can cause to the environment, it is important to understand that plastics are one of the least biodegradable materials. An average plastic beverage bottle could take up to 500 years to decompose naturally.
Garbage Disposal and Sanitation
According to a 2014 report by The Economist, about 130 million households (and 600 million population) in the country lack toilets. Over 72 percent of India’s rural population defecate in the open. Ancient practices such as manual scavenging are still in vogue in the country. Lack of safe garbage disposal systems in the country make India one of the most unhygienic countries in the world. The rural regions of the country are worse off than urban tracts in this regard. This is one of the areas where the country’s government and people need to work hard and improve the prevailing conditions.
Loss of Biodiversity
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red Data Book, some 47 species of plants and animals in India are listed as critically endangered. Loss of ecology and natural habitats have left many indigenous species, including important ones such as the Siberian crane, Himalayan wolf and Kashmir stag in grave danger of going extinct. Rapid urbanization, poaching and indiscriminate hunting for leather fur etc. have rendered these animals critically endangered and the flora or herbal treasure of India in near-extinction conditions. Many of the plants commonly harvested for their medicinal properties are vanishing along with the legacy of Ayurvedic treatment.
There are two main reasons India’s environmental challenges are assuming gigantic proportions. Firstly, the exploding population and the needs of billions makes environmental sustainability a very difficult issue. The other big challenge is lack of environmental awareness and conservation. Despite the efforts of government and environmental agencies, there is a lack of substantial efforts from the masses. Unless this changes, there is little hope for improvement. We can only look forward to the youth and the younger generations of the nation to remain conscientious and act in the best interests of future generations.