health of a population is strictly dependant on its environment. No amount of
medicine or attempts at a healthy lifestyle can prevent one from the deleterious effects of pollution, ozone depletion, or
unsanitary conditions which are intrinsic to rapidly industrializing nations. In
an effort to compete with developed countries and sustain a viable economy, many developing countries make health regulations
and enforcement come second to their growing economy. Sometimes it is intentionally
looking the other way and sometimes governments simply cannot keep up with enough health legislation for their rapidly industrializing
nation. Major problems often include respiratory problems from particulate matter
in the air, poor sanitation, overcrowding in cities which leads to the spread of disease and poor living conditions, poor
working conditions, sloppy clean up by industrial plants often leading to hazardous waste dumping, and unclean and unsafe
drinking water. To illustrate the effects on public health of rapid industrialization
in developing countries, I will discuss the impact India’s industrialization has
had on public health.
economic and industrial growth has increased tremendously in recent years. Unfortunately,
legislation and its enforcement have not been able to keep up with the growth of new industries and their potential health
risks. In December 1984, in what is one of the worst industrial accidents in
the history of the world, a water leak into the chemical tanks at a pesticide plant in the city of Bhopal resulted in 40 tons
of toxic gas being spread over 75 square kilometers and instantly killing 3,800 people while thousands more were exposed and
also died. While the company paid a mere $470 million, the accident was a glaring
reminder of the lack of knowledge about dangerous chemicals and that India’s health and safety regulations were lagging
sorely behind their industrial growth. Since 1984, India has implemented requirements for companies to not only have more safety regulations
but also to have a disaster management plan.
from the need for regulation is the need for enforcement. Unfortunately industries
and the government of developing countries desperately want economic growth above all else and this desire creates a situation
where public health becomes a secondary concern. In the Bhopal
disaster, the Indian government intentionally tried to cover up the disastrous consequences and did not release information
about the health effects of the chemical leak to the public in an attempt to maintain foreign trade and investment. One good consequence however was the implementation of air and water regulations with the passage of the
Environmental Protection Act
The most serious health hazard in India right now is the lack of safe water. Improper
irrigation due to India’s dependence
on the monsoon season has caused a fall in the water table and increased breeding grounds for vectors carrying dengue fever
and malaria. The Ganges River passes farmland and industrial sights along its 2,400 km course picking up pollutants from
illegal dumping by plants and from the huge amounts of fertilizer used by Indian farmers (60% more than in the USA). This endangers
not only the public at the sight of the dumping but also every community that uses the river downstream. In Kanpur, drinking water comes out green
as a result of a high chrome content. Poor water quality also contributes to
water borne disease such as diarrheal diseases. It is estimated that 300,000
children die of this type of disease each year in India.
Picture of the polluted Ganges River in India.
Still other health problems threaten
India as a result of industrialization. Cities
sprout from towns when major industries develop. This results in overcrowding
(compounded by India’s high population
growth rate). In 1994 an episode of pneumonic plague emerged in Bombay as a result of the horrendous sanitary conditions.
Out of India’s 3000 cities,
only 200 have basic sewage treatment facilities. Overcrowding also contributes
to the spread of communicable diseases the most common of which are tuberculosis, leprosy, cholera, shigellosis, polio, and
parasitic diseases. 75% of all deaths in India are a result of poor sanitation.
Finally, working conditions and outdated technology in India are also a strong contributor to health problems. Again, industries are lax about conforming to pollution controls and the few health regulations in place
and the government does not make it a priority to enforce them. Country miners
and ceramics workers show high rates of silicosis and more than half the workers in pesticide plants exhibit symptoms of poisoning
and it is estimated that 22,000 deaths per year are caused by pesticides. The
tanning industry also lends to high tuberculosis and other respiratory problems as it uses outdated processes that expose
workers to toxic chemicals such as sulphides, chlorine dioxide, lime, and hydrogen sulfide.
Particulate matter in the air from factories and India’s
high reliance on coal and wood burning greatly contributes to respiratory diseases.
The World Bank estimates that high particulate levels are responsible for 2% to 5% of all deaths in urban areas in
the developing world. Several industries employing mainly female workers create
high levels of particulate matter in the working environment (some of which are hazardous chemicals) thus contributing to
respiratory disease in women, birth defects, irregular menstrual cycles, miscarriages, and in the case of Bidi making (similar
to a cigarette), woman workers have 8 times the amount of nicotine in their systems than that or smokers.
While it is difficult for India
to catch up its regulations with its greatly expanding economy, it is a necessary step to becoming a developed country. India’s GDP has increased
from $1000 in 1984 (the Bhopal disaster) to $2,900 in 2004
and is growing at 8% per year. The government needs to focus more of its attention
on living standards and environmental protection. Safe water should become a
high priority and subsequently, enforcing rigorous regulations on safe dumping for industries needs to occur. Cities should all have access to sewage systems and medicine should be more readily available. There should also be legislation regarding the working conditions in factories. All of these steps are necessary before India
can join the ranks of developed countries. Being a developed country does not
simply mean a good economy developed from rapid industrialization, but also a higher quality of life for its citizens.
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