India’s polluted air claimed 1.24 million lives in 2017

The new study shows India has a higher proportion of global health loss due to air pollution. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2018
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India’s polluted air claimed 1.24 million lives in 2017

  • The Indian capital, New Delhi, was most exposed to the tiny particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, that can reach deep into the lungs and cause major health problems
  • Average life expectancy in India in 2017 would have been higher by 1.7 years if air quality was at healthy levels, the report said

NEW DELHI: India’s toxic air claimed 1.24 million lives in 2017, or 12.5 percent of total deaths recorded that year, according to a study published in Lancet Planetary Health on Thursday.
More than 51 percent of the people who died because of air pollution were younger than 70, said the study conducted by academics and scientists from various institutions in India and around the world.
It was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Indian government and the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Of the total, about 670,000 died from air pollution in the wider environment and 480,000 from household pollution related to the use of solid cooking fuels.
The Indian capital, New Delhi, was most exposed to the tiny particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, that can reach deep into the lungs and cause major health problems, the study concluded. Some northern states closer to Delhi were almost as bad.
Average life expectancy in India in 2017 would have been higher by 1.7 years if air quality was at healthy levels, the report said.
That isn’t as gloomy as some other recent studies. For example the University of Chicago’s report released last month said prolonged exposure to pollution reduces the life expectancy of an Indian citizen by over 4 years.
Still, the new study shows India has a higher proportion of global health loss due to air pollution — at 26.2 percent of the world’s total when measured in deaths and disability — than its 18.1 percent share of the world’s population.
“The findings of this study suggest that the impact of air pollution on deaths and life expectancy in India might be lower than previously estimated but this impact is still quite substantial,” the study said.
Delhi’s air was “very poor” on Thursday, according to a federal pollution agency. The city’s quality of air has swung between “severe” to “hazardous” levels multiple times in the past two months.
The city residents’ apparent lack of concern about the toxic air — whether through ignorance, apathy or the impact of poverty — gives federal and local politicians the cover they need for failing to vigorously address the problem, pollution activists, social scientists and political experts have said.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization said India was home to the world’s 14 most polluted cities.


Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

Updated 15 December 2018
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Joy as US-seized bells return to Philippine church

  • US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack
  • For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence

BALANGIGA, Philippines: A sleepy central Philippine town erupted in joy on Saturday as bells looted from its church more than a century ago by vengeful US troops were to be turned over to the community.
Children waving bell-shaped signs and tearful residents in Balangiga gathered to welcome home the three bells that are a deep local source of pride, and which the US flew to Manila this week after decades of urging by the Philippines.
US troops carted away the bronze objects as trophies, after razing the town and killing potentially thousands of Filipinos, in reprisal for a surprise 1901 attack that left 48 of their comrades dead.
For the people of Balangiga the bells are a symbol of the Philippines’ long struggle for independence, and a dark chapter which is the subject of an annual re-enactment and remembrance event locally.
“It’s not just me but the whole town is walking in the clouds because the bells are finally with us,” 81-year-old Nemesio Duran told AFP.
“We are the happiest people on Earth now,” he added, noting he is descended from the boy who rang one of the bells, long said to have signalled the attack on the Americans.
The bells arrived in Balangiga late Friday ahead of an official handover ceremony set for later Saturday, but the town’s streets were already crowded with people and vendors selling T-shirts saying “Balangiga bells finally home.”
The ceremony will be not far from the town plaza that holds a monument with statues of the American soldiers having breakfast as the Filipino revolutionaries raise their machetes at the start of the onslaught.
Manila has been pushing for the bells’ return since at least the 1990s, with backing from Philippine presidents, its influential Catholic Church and supporters in the United States.
But the repatriation was long held back by some American lawmakers and veterans who viewed the bells, two of which were in the US state of Wyoming and the third at a US base in South Korea, as tributes to fallen soldiers.
A confluence of factors earlier this year, that included a key veterans’ group dropping its opposition, culminated in the bells landing in Manila aboard a US military cargo plane on Tuesday for a solemn handover.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, 73, bluntly called on Washington in a 2017 speech: “Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are not yours.”
His arrival in power in mid-2016 was marked by moves to split from Manila’s historical ally and former colonial master the United States. At the same time Duterte signalled an end to the standoff with Beijing over the disputed South China Sea.
Yet for some in Balangiga the bells’ return is also a somber occasion tinged with the pain of the past, which has been passed from generation to generation.
“It’s mixed emotions because the bells also remind me of what happened,” Constancia Elaba, 62, told AFP, adding how she grew up hearing stories of the episode from her father.
“It was painful and you cannot take it away from us. We can never forget that,” she said.