In recent years, terms such as air pollution, AQI, smog tower, stubble burning, and the odd-even formula have become hot topics in North India. Every winter, these issues take center stage, only to fade away after a month or two. The troubling aspect is that pollution is now perceived as a seasonal phenomenon.
As a teacher with nearly two decades of experience, I’ve observed how climate change and deteriorating air quality are impacting children’s education. Schools that used to close only for rainy days now shut down due to extreme weather, intense heat, cold, and pollution.
My heart holds a special place for children with disabilities, and I view these issues from their perspective as well. These children are not only sensitive but also possess a strong will to achieve. Their resilience and patience are commendable. I believe that if they didn’t have to grapple with physical and mental disparities, they could have made significant contributions to society and the country.
When we examine this issue scientifically, we encounter statistics that are both surprising and disheartening.
Pollution and Birth Defects
India is responsible for 16 percent of the world’s fatalities due to congenital anomalies in children under the age of five. For those children who survive with these anomalies, life often becomes a struggle for them and their families.
However, we can mitigate this situation, if not entirely eliminate it. A study from China indicates that pollution significantly contributes to congenital anomalies. The research associates 6%-8% of birth defects with exposure to air pollution. These defects, such as neural tube disorders, impact thousands of individuals in countries with high birth rates.
Air pollution not only impairs the development of a child’s lungs in the womb, but it also severely affects the brain development of the child, leading to a variety of issues. These issues can later manifest as mental disorders such as autism or other learning disabilities.
Special role of heavy metals
Our modern lifestyle has inadvertently invited harmful heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic into our daily routines.
These metals pose a significant threat to our health. Lead, found in old batteries and produced by coal combustion, can cause low birth weight and hinder mental development. Cadmium, present in fossil fuels and cigarette smoke, can also lead to developmental delays in children.
Mercury, released from burning coal, can interfere with brain development. Arsenic, emitted from burning fossil fuels, is directly associated with developmental delays.
In essence, the impact of these heavy metals extends beyond just low birth weight; they can also cause developmental delays, behavioral issues, and learning disabilities in children. If a fetus is exposed to lead, it can result in a reduced IQ score after birth. Similarly, exposure to various metals and gases can increase the risk of intellectual disability in a child developing in the womb.
Mission LiFE: A Beacon of Sustainable Hope
These issues are indeed concerning, but the mantra of Mission LiFE, introduced by our Prime Minister, offers a glimmer of hope.
This initiative by the Prime Minister promotes a sustainable lifestyle through public participation. Mission LiFE aims to eradicate air pollution by endorsing simple yet effective actions such as reducing vehicular carbon emissions and plastic usage.
In fact, Mission LiFE empowers us by motivating us to opt for sustainable alternatives, cut down on carbon emissions, and conserve resources. By influencing both consumer behavior and government policy, this program tackles the root cause of air pollution. The potential impact of this initiative, not only on the environment but also on the health and well-being of expectant mothers and their unborn children, is substantial.
We cannot ignore this situation. We are directly accountable for the escalating pollution and changing climate. Therefore, it’s up to us to rectify it, which is why initiatives like Mission LiFE are so crucial. Our responsibility is even more significant because this issue pertains to the health of our children. Air pollution and heavy metals are silent threats that require our collective attention. Through Mission LiFE, we have the opportunity to make a lasting difference while ensuring a healthier and brighter future for the next generations. Now is the time for us to unite, educate, and contribute to the well-being of our children and the planet they will inherit.
(The author is the principal of a government school in Bareilly and has also participated in the Mann Ki Baat program of Prime Minister Narendra Modi due to her efforts to bring disabled children into the mainstream of education and society.)
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