India's Environmental Challenges

Article excerpt

India's degraded environment needs emergency care.

If India's environment continues to decline at its present rate, the country is likely to become one of the largest wastelands on earth.

The process of ecological collapse is well under way:

Indiscriminate overuse of pesticides is destroying India's soil and groundwater, affecting human endocrine systems (and lowering sperm counts), and killing millions of birds, insects, and beneficial microbes. India has lost almost 25 billion tons of topsoil during the last five years. Many rivers have become cesspools of toxic chemicals, and fish populations near large coastal cities, such as Mumbai (Bombay) and Calcutta, have declined.

Air and water pollution have reached intolerable levels. According to recent World Bank estimates, pollution in India causes 2 million deaths and costs $10 million annually. The air is toxic in most of India's 28 major cities; air pollution and unhygienic conditions are especially acute in slum areas, where 35% of the people in urban areas live.

The foremost crisis facing India in the new millennium is water quality and quantity. One in four Indians has no access to safe and clean water, and 90% of water resources are polluted. Per capita availability of water has declined to one-third during the last 50 years. By 2010, 50% of Indians will have to survive on five gallons per person per day for all uses--drinking, bathing, power generation, etc.

India is adding 35 people to its population every minute. The population of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh together has risen from 260 million in 1900 to about 1.3 billion today. The land and resources of South Asia cannot sustain a basic living standard for more than 250 million people--far below the European living standard of today.

Like sub-Saharan Africa, the whole of South Asia has become a land of pathology. Ancient contagious and waterborne diseases continue to remain scourges and new diseases are proliferating, especially in urban areas. Malaria and tuberculosis have become more virulent than ever before, as the pathogens have become drug resistant. India has nearly 10% of the world's AIDS victims, about 3.5 million cases, and AIDS is spreading quickly in major cities such as Mumbai and Delhi.

Meeting Key Challenges

Restoring India's environment will require a broad action plan. …