The Science is Clear: How Environment Affects Public Health in India

11th December, 2019

Dr. Rashneh Pardiwala, Dr. Nerges Mistry and Ashima Narain

MUMBAI: On December 11th, Asia Society India Centre hosted Dr. Nerges Mistry, Director and Trustee of the Foundation for Medical Research and Dr. Rashneh Pardiwala, Director and Founder of the Centre for Environmental Research and Education. Ashima Narain, former photo editor for National Geographic Traveller India, moderated the discussion, which included critical topics like the impact of air pollution on society, urbanization, decreasing crop yields and lack of adequate nutrition.

The discussion began with Narain presenting a collection of her photographs on the struggles of rural inhabitants to access basic amenities of life like water and nutrition. Following this, the panel discussion commenced with the speakers sharing their views on the public health crisis in Delhi and why farmers in Haryana and Punjab burn their stubble rather than following the time-consuming, labour-intensive removal process. Dr. Pardiwala spoke about how environmental change is affecting the health of poor people significantly. Changing monsoon patterns affect crop yields, which directly affect prices, in turn reducing purchasing power of poor citizens and adversely affecting their health.

Dr. Mistry then spoke about why climate change is still not viewed as a major threat. She said climate sadism, which is deriving satisfaction from purposeful environmental degradation, and climate denial, which is refusal to accept the science of climate change, are two main reasons the threat continues to loom large. Dr. Pardiwala added that climate change is not taken seriously because the effects are not visibly short-term and people do not think 50 years down the line.

The panelists then addressed the problem of urbanization. Dr. Pardiwala argued that urbanization should no longer be viewed as simply our cities expanding, but should be seen through the lens of rural migrants moving to urban areas, many of whom are climate refugees.

Finally, the efficacy of our public health system to deal with this issue was discussed, with Dr. Mistry saying that it is reactive, rather than proactive. Our public health system does not have adequate personnel and the laboratory diagnostic structure is weak. Further, there is also a lack of social equity, with wards in Mumbai getting unequal supply of water, based on socio-economic differences.

The session concluded with a QnA session with the audience who asked questions on topics like the problem of quantifying particulate matter pollutants, bringing change and awareness in the mindset of people and the challenges associated with influencing public discourse on climate change.


As reported by Aatreya Bhat, Programme Intern, Business and Policy, Asia Society India Centre. 

Watch the full programme here: