World Environment Day: Why Is Climate Change Making It Harder To Breathe?

5,43,000 children died of respiratory problems caused by air or household pollution.

4 min read

Did you know that more than HALF of all Indians who visited a doctor in 2016 did so because they had trouble breathing? To be specific, 51 percent. And this was before COVID-19.

This number increases to an astounding 65 percent in paediatric cases, i.e., children visiting the doctor for breathing problems. The number of deaths and disabilities from respiratory problems and allergic disorders in India is also 2.4 times higher than the world average.

And it's going to get worse in the coming years.

On World Asthma Day 2022, we look at how climate change, air pollution, industrial, and vehicular emissions have led to 65 million Indians suffering from breathing problems and other respiratory problems.


India's Children: The First Victims of Climate Change

The number of children in India suffering from asthma, allergies, and other respiratory disorders has shot up in the last two decades. One in five child deaths is linked to air or other pollution and 90 percent of children around the world breathe toxic air.

In 2016, the world reported 5,43,000 deaths in children under the age of 5 years because of air pollution or household pollution.

While the major cause of allergies and respiratory trouble in the west is pollen, India has reported a sharp increase in respiratory trouble caused by dust, air pollution, dander, dust mites, cockroaches, and pollen.

Cases of asthma, respiratory disorders, allergic rhinitis, and allergies have risen in India in the past two decades.

At least 37.5 MILLION Indians suffer from asthma. For context, that's HALF the size of the UK's population.

And India accounts for more than 10 percent of the total number of asthmatics in the world.

There are many reasons for this increase in respiratory problems.

Climate change, air pollution, poverty, and the economic boom of the 1990s all make it harder to breathe.


Air Pollution

India's air pollution stats are IMPRESSIVELY horrifying. It has one of the highest air pollution burdens in the world, just behind China. 77% of Indians are exposed to pollution levels that exceed the WHO's safety standards.

26 percent of the world's loss of life expectancy because of air pollution is from India. That's more than a QUARTER of this massive number. What are the major causes of this air pollution?



Nearly 70 percent of Indians live in poverty, sustaining themselves and their families on around 150 rupees a day.

Out of an estimated 65 million cases of respiratory trouble, More than 80%, 78%, and 52% are because of burning fire wood, kerosene, and cow dung cakes as fuel.

If people stopped using firewood and kerosene/cow dung it could save approximately 27 million people from breathing problems like asthma, COPD, and allergic rhinitis.

But with crippling poverty and inflation, the poor in India have to choose from either dying of hunger and cold, or dying from respiratory problems and disease, all because of the wealth disparity.

Ironically, while over 70 percent of India lives in poverty, the economic boom of the 1990s, which made many Indians wealthy, is responsible(in part) for the increase in the country's respiratory disorders.

The economic boom led to more wealth in the hands of more citizens, which led to buying cars, bikes, and other vehicles that use petrol or diesel.

The burning of fossil fuels in cars, and emissions from industries both contribute to making the environment even worse to live in.

Pollution monitoring in india is carried out by over 4,000 Online Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems called OCEMS. They categorize industries based on their pollution risk.

Delhi, one of the most polluted parts of the country has 154 industries in 23 districts which all fall in the "all-red category, air polluting industry" category.

And what does this increase in industrial emissions do?

Well, repeated exposure to toxic air causes cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, lung cancer, strokes, pre-term birth, type-2 diabetes, and a RANGE of other cancers.


Climate Change

All other factors aside, climate change is responsible for increased breathing problems and allergies across the world. While air pollution, industrial dumping and poverty all lead to climate change, climate change itself makes the world unhealthier.

We have heat waves, longer summers, and hotter days because of climate change. This creates an environment that's perfect for a longer pollen season.

Pollen is the leading cause of allergies and respiratory problems in most parts of the world. It would be the leading cause of respiratory trouble in India too, if we didn't have such terrifying pollution numbers.

Climate change makes the earth warmer. This leads to pollen becoming stronger and makes pollen season last longer.

We're literally turning Earth into a more toxic environment to live in, with every passing minute.

As the environment suffers we suffer with it. Earth will keep living long beyond all of us. So isn't it time we made a change to save our future?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Health   Climate Change   World Health Day 

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