Focus must be on environmental protection
World Environment Day
Srinagar: June 05: Modern society is vulnerable to the environmental degradation in general and the human health in particular. The forests are shrinking, deserts are expanding, soils are eroding, the levels of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases in the atmosphere continue to build in all too predictable manner. A narrow gap separates supply and demand for the food worldwide, and many of our strategies for resolving food problems in the future include implicit assumptions about the climatic stability. Thus, it is critical to understand some aspects of environmental health issues in our Kashmir in order to study the potential effects of “Environmetal activities on Human Health”. Planning land use, projecting food production, and assessing human effect on climate – all depends on understanding the major control on environmental variability.
Climate Change and Human Health in Kashmir
The valley of Kashmir has been experiencing the changing patterns in temperature and precipitation for the last few years and the droughts, the unseasonal rainfall has posed a threat to crops nearing maturity. Also, physical access to food has been endangered by such changes, while economic access has been eroded due to damage to ‘Livelihood security’. The rise in the staple food prices now occurring will further enhance “poverty related endemic”. Crop production has been under stress especially in the under-irrigated areas of the valley. It means ‘lower caloric Intake’ for Kashmir’s rural population.
There have been the growing evidences that the climate change is having a profound effect on the human health in Kashmir. Excessive rainfall and high humidity has enhanced the mosquito breeding for the few summers now. We are concerned that changing climate pattern may lead to the ‘temperature related infections’. While we may have water borne diseases like malaria, jaundice, cholera etc as a common phenomenon in the state. On the other hand, reduced food production will lead to hunger and malnutrition. The percentage of the world population affected by weather disasters has doubled during the last 3 decades and the WHO (WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION) estimates that the climate change of the last 30 years already claims 150,000 lives annually.
Sustainable Food Security involves physical, economical, and social access to a balanced diet and clean drinking water to every child, woman and man in the state. For achieving physical access, production and productivity of major crops should go up, so that there is proper match between demand and supply. For economic access, there is need for adequate purchasing power, which in turn can be achieved through work and income security. Social access involves attention to the gender, class and caste dimensions of food security. The climate of Kashmir is facing new threat – Black carbon. Produced through diesel combustion and biomass burning, this is now being considered as a major contributor to climate change by environmentalists. In Kashmir, transport, brick kilns, cement factories pump black carbon, formed through the incomplete combustion, and other harmful pollutants, into the air. Chemically it is such that it stays in the atmosphere for only a short time. However, it is capable of causing rapid environmental damage in the short period of time. Black carbon emissions pose a danger to Kashmir glaciers. In addition, the impact of black carbon on melting snow pack and glaciers is more than that of Carbon Dioxide. A recent report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveals the presence of black carbon over highly reflective surfaces, such as snow and ice, or clouds, may cause a significant positive irradiative force. Temperature trend is the proposed causal factor for the accelerating retreat of Himalayan glaciers, which threatens fresh water supplies and food security in Kashmir.
Water Related Environmental Diseases
Water Pollution adversely changes the quality of water. Water quality in the river systems across the world has reached critical crisis proportions. On the basis of the findings the as per studies done major source of water pollution are: sewage and discharge of industrial waste. Based on these, it can be concluded that rapidly increasing demand for water can be met neither in quantity nor in quality unless a radical departure is made to the existing policies and practices established in this sector. For the last few years we have seen the tremendous pressure on our ‘Vyeth’ – through its journey across the valley. The slums like constructions and the waste disposal into it is the certain element in the degradation of its water quality. Even if we are not yet the Industrialized State, the river systems are in alarming danger levels of pollution. The areas, near the water bodies have a poor drainage system, which has added to their woes. Water from kitchens and bathrooms has nowhere to go. Garbage has accumulated in the drains with human waste, blocking them at many places. Major waste carriers are blocked as the drains of the nearby houses run through the centre of the main roads which pose the risk of diseases. The uncovered manholes are the other issues. They are either totally uncovered or are seen cracked which pose a threat to safety of all in general and the school going children in particular. They have been temporarily covered by people themselves. In general, State Departments responsible for water management and supply have largely bred ineffective and inefficient in their management. As a result, not only is there ‘unhealthy overuse of water’ but polluting and we as citizens of the state are able to violate standards and regulations as easy as possible.
The waters from different Nallahs of Srinagar like Nallah Ammer Khan, Tailbal Nallah and others few of which are famous for the therapeutically and medicinal properties are proving to be a major cause of diseases. Located in the suburbs of Srinagar city, a major part of population here has developed health problems due to consumption of contaminated water of the Nallahs. Piles of garbage in and around the Nallahs as well as in the localities have deteriorated the water quality, putting the health of inhabitants at risk like the enteric and skin infections. The danger of spread of diseases increases as summers approach. According to gastroenterologists the risk of catching waterborne diseases as well as other diseases becomes higher in the absence of proper sanitation. Cholera and Diarrhoea are the most deadly. Officials pay deaf ear to the problems the people face on the ground and for the last couple of years nobody has bothered to clean any drains that get blocked. Very few dustbins are installed in the city. Most garbage carrier dustbins are either overturned on the roadsides and these Nallahs or are the hub of what i call ‘Dog Seats’ till the trucks from the Municipal Corporation come to collect the waste. Another problem is the setting up of hand pumps in the areas in a bid to provide clean drinking water. But the step has not had much of impact as water from these hands pumps is still unsafe for drinking.
Garbage as a Source of Diseases
While the main roads are littered with garbage, some areas in uptown city present a sorry picture this has led to a decline in t he sales. It is not only the foul smell, but the stray dogs lured by the unattended waste. In 2011 – 12, Srinagar city with a population of 2 million had 575 garbage collection centres before being dumped at Achen Syed Landfill – only site in Srinagar City spread over 600 Kanals. But the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) had placed only 120 dumper bins to collect more than 380 metric tons (MT) of solid waste every day from 68 wards. The remaining garbage collection places were in open and accessible to stray cattle and canines. With only one dumping site, as per reports there were only 2100 sweepers to keep the city clean. The government has failed in scientific waste disposal with regard to waste management. Though steps to improvise the scientific management of garbage at some places, like the installed “blue and green color dustbins” so that people become aware of bio-degradable and non bio- degradable materials. A garbage collection centres in city give insight into the poor solid waste management. The waste is dumped in open and usually the passers-by have to cover their noses to avoid the stink. The problem is garbage collection still has to improve in the city as traditional methods of dumping and collection are still employed. Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) is silent on the issue even if it is busy in the ‘Green Srinagar Campaign”.
The other side of the coin is our ‘social habit of spitting and urinating in public places’ which has turned into a nuisance now. In the whole city we come across the tag lines on the walls of houses and gardens written with “Hayan Par Peeshab Qarnah Sakth Manah Hai” and “Hayan Par Qudah Faiqnah Sakth Manah Hai”. Our heads turn down in the shame when our people themselves cannot cooperate. We even remain silent at how we throw the Waazwaan in unhygienic manner after we spend lacs in Marriages. Why can’t we learn how to behave as a society?
Hospital Waste as a big threat
In Srinagar, inside every hospital we find four coloured dustbins – Red, Yellow, Blue and Black with a poster above each giving guidelines for the segregation of different forms of hospital waste. The guidelines are being followed strictly but only by the patients and their attendants. Once outside, this hospital wastage is dumped together. As there is no incinerator at most hospitals, there is no proper biological treatment plant in Srinagar where this biological and other waste material could be disinfected. We have incinerator plants at few hospitals but none is functioning. As per the guidelines it is mandatory for every hospital and healthcare centre to have four colour-coded dustbins to collect different kind of waste for proper disposal. Yellow is for biological solid waste material, Red for plastic material, Blue for surgical material and Black for food, paper and other common waste. Though the colour-coded dustbins have been placed in the hospitals but the wastage is not disposed off as per the guidelines. The collected waste material from the hospitals is taken and there is no expert knowledge as to how to dispose or burn it. In Kashmir hospitals produce tons of biological waste material, which contains highly infectious chemicals. The health experts warn that improper disposal and not a proper decomposition of the hospital waste can lead to serious health problems for the people.
Air Quality and the Respiratory diseases
Due to the environmental Pollution the biological characteristics of land, air and water are harmfully affecting the living things in general and the human life in particular. Most of the gaseous and particulate air pollutants are products of fuels. Nitrogen oxides and Carbon monoxides are highly toxic and impairs Oxygen Carrying Capacity (OCC) of blood. Haemoglobin absorbs Nitrogen dioxide more easily than oxygen and nearly 80 to 90 percent NO2 inhaled is easily absorbed into blood stream. This reduces the OCC of blood and causes weakness in the lung tissues which may lead to even lung cancer and emphysema – a condition wherein there is problem in breathing due to the breakdown of the ‘air sacs’ in the lungs, which then progressively diminishes the ability of the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood stream. NO2 causes Bronchitis and Broncho-pneumonia. In the exposure of direct sunlight, NO2 reacts with hydrocarbons to produce ozone – a highly toxic gas – known to cause Asthma.
Compounds containing chlorine and fluorine, especially the chlorofluorocarbons used in the propellants may cause lung diseases if inhaled. Particulate Matter (PM) is another concern for human health. The particles less than 10 mm in diameter are called ‘Respiratory Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM)’ can enter into human nasal tract and particles less than 2.5mm can reach further inside up to the terminal bronchi and alveoli in the lungs. It may cause lung diseases or in advance stages may lead to tumours and even cancer. The Srinagar city is fast turning into the “Dust Capital” and we in future may face very alarming cases of such patients in our hospitals as already there is rise in the flow of respiratory related disorders since past few years and one major cause is the “Dust’.
The “Sae’re Bath’ae” in the Kashmir region in general and that of Budgam in particular, have seen the spiked trend and this is responsible for the increase in the health related problems in the areas near the “Sae’re Bath’ae”. According to the recent survey, it is reported that the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), Srinagar has found only 59 Bath’ae running with proper government authorization out of the total 374 Bath’ae surveyed. The survey also revealed that there are 204 stone crushers, of which only 83 are government authorized.
According to conservative estimates, an average Bath’ae burns 20 tonnes of fuel annually, meaning together they all burn around 7,480 tons of fuel. In addition, lowest quality coal and rubber tyres are being burnt to save fuel costs. Besides, these Bath’ae are among the major emitters of black carbon.
According the studies by the various academicians and from few researchers including University of Kashmir, there has been the increase in the Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) in recent years. The cough and the dry throat has been the common phenomenon among the population who live near to the source and even in the summer season. The dust and the smoke from the chimneys from the Bath’ae are very harmful to the humans and even Carcinogenic if black carbon is inhaled in excess
Indoor Infections in winters
The other concerns in the Kashmir are the indoor pollution and the indoor inhalation of the gases from different sources like the tradition of using Kanger in winters. Not only the use of Karger what we call “Kanger Tap’ein” is carcinogenic due to the continuous exposure of skin to Heat and the smoke we inhale. There is increasing trend in the cancers in Kashmir among few the “Environmental Induced Carcinomas”. According to WHO, several cases of death are reported every year of Carbon monoxide poisoning from gas Heaters and other Heating Equipments. We in Kashmir due to harsh winters and extensive use of Gas Coal Heating Equipments without proper precautions cause CO related deaths.
Noise and Traffic related Stress
Noise can be defined as unwanted sound. Whether a sound is pleasant or a noise depends upon loudness, duration, rhythm and the mood of the person. Loudness is measured in terms of Decibels (dB). Just audible sound is about 10 dB, a whisper 20 dB, and a normal conversation 35 – 60 dB. Sound beyond 80 dB is regarded as pollution as it harms the hearing system. WHO has fixed 45 dB as the safe noise level in a city. The most immediate and acute effect of noise is impairment of hearing, anxiety and stress and in extreme cases fright. Physiologically there is increase in heart rate, constriction of blood vessels, digestive spasms and even dilation of pupil of the eye.
Our Srinagar city is going through ‘chaos by noise’ where the noise levels are alarming beyond WHO safety standards. The increasing traffic has not only affected the air quality but also the human mental health. The noise by the overuse of the horns has an impact on us. The mess at the traffic signals is vivid. The populations which reside on the main roads are more prone to ‘Traffic Stress’ and ‘Dust and Noise Related Health disorders’.
But before all this, we need the assessment for the state of the Environmental Health in Kashmir valley. As the people in the Kashmir are very less aware about the information on the subject, they need to be educated with thrust on the awareness about how the changes in environment are affecting everything, from our ecology to the human health. Every aspect of living is associated with the changing of the surroundings. For past few years we are concerned by the other environmental effects as well like “Pollen Snow” in May which added to the list of environmental issues we are experiencing now. There is need of comprehensive research and analysis by academia in the University and the health expects in the Medical Schools in Kashmir to focus on the impacts of the environmental degradation on the human health in Kashmir.