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Science, Society and Risk in the Anthropocene

The culture of too much hygiene in rapid, unplanned urbanising society with poor infrastructure exposes urban spaces to a particular risk brought about by unchecked use of technology. This article looks at the indiscriminate use of antibiotics and antibacterial consumer products, which form the aetiology for the emergence of new strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria (superbugs) in urban space, especially in waterbodies.

In its report on antimicrobial resistance, published on 30 April 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a major health issue threatening all regions of the world. The report emphasises preventing infections from occurring with better hygiene and by improving access to sanitation and clean water (The Hindu 2014). The onus of the risk of emergence of antibiotic resistant strain of bacteria has been located in inappropriate antibiotic drug usage. Very little attention has been paid to the consumer products, which claim to be “antibacterial” and to keep the environment 99.9% germ free.

In 1968, American marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson wrote The Silent Spring, a path-breaking book on indiscriminate use of chemicals in the US. It was for the first time that the idea that if human beings were going to adopt new technologies without assessing or evaluating the long-term impact of their usage, then we as a race were staring at disaster, was put forth. Technology has already brought about irreversible challenges to the quality of life of plants, animals and human beings.

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