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INTD Team Project: Health in the Developing World

The Effects of Industralization

The International Response to Health Crises
The Spread of Diseases as a Result of Globalization
Modernization and Urbanization
The Effects of Industralization

The 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.

Bhopal Distaster


India’s 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. 


Law and Enforcement


Aside 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.


Working Conditions


             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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