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The assault on our bodies

“Every poison we put out into the environment comes right back at us, in our air, water and food. These poisons slowly seep into our bodies and take years to show up as cancer or as immune system disorder or as hormonal or reproductive system disorders — affecting even the foetus,” was what environmental activist Anil Agarwal noted as he wrote about his journey towards understanding cancer in the context of the environment. Anil Agarwal died of cancer at 54, in 2002.

Way back in 1994 he warned that people would fall victim to the environment if they continue to pump toxics into it. Now, over two decades later, the Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE) report, Body Burden: State of India’s Health (2015) provides, for the first time, a collection of articles highlighting the tangible link between our environmental degradation and health. It lays emphasis on contaminated water, polluted air, climate change, sanitation, pesticides, forest degradation and lifestyle-related issues.

Clear and present danger

The prognosis doesn’t read well for India. The report pegs air pollution as the fifth leading cause of death in India leading to 6,20,000 premature deaths annually due to stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory infections and cancer of the trachea, bronchus and lungs, among others.

Water contamination that causes diseases affects 37.7 million Indians annually, including 1.5 million children who die of diarrhoea alone.

Establishing the link between climate change and a rise in vector-borne diseases, including dengue and malaria, the report notes: “The potential period of spread of malaria has increased to 10-12 months (almost the whole year), which is up from four to six months.” The report also warns that deforestation is causing diseases in animals that were earlier confined to forests but now affect humans, claiming 2.7 million lives annually. Worse, the World Health Organization says our indiscriminate use of pesticides will cause 20 times more deaths due to cancer by 2030.

Sunita Narain of CSE says there is now a well-established link between our environment and our health: “In fact, environmental degradation’s first assault is on our bodies and this is one of the biggest reasons why we try to protect the environment.”

bindu.p@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 11:26:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-assault-on-our-bodies/article8008654.ece

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