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Air pollution cost India 1.67 million lives and $36·8 billion in 2019

Lancet study finds air pollution leads to various illnesses, including lung diseases, diabetes and cataracts.

Air pollution in India led to 1.67 million deaths in 2019, with the country incurring a loss of $36·8 billion as a result, according to a recent study published in peer-reviewed medical journal Lancet. The study is important because while there are several reports on air pollution-related deaths, few have explored their economic impact on India’s economy. 

Populated-weighted mean ambient PM2.5 concentration

The study titled, ‘The health and economic impact of air pollution in the states of India: The Global Burden of Disease Study 2019’ was a collaboration between researchers from AIIMS, ICMR and IIT-Delhi. It aimed to measure the exposure of indoor and outdoor air pollution, and their attributable deaths, disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) and economic impact in every state of India.

Most toxic states in India

The study found out that toxic air led to 17.8% of the total deaths in the country in 2019. One of the major reasons for the deaths (0.98 million) was ambient particulate matter (PM) pollution whose concentration was 91·7 μg/m³ in India in 2019.

Four northern states – Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – had the highest PM2.5 exposure, while Kerala had the least, the study stated.

Other major causes of deaths were household air pollution (0.61 million) and ambient ozone pollution (0.17 million).

Deaths and DALYs attributable to air pollution in India in 2019(in million)

According to the study, the crude death rate per 1 lakh population due to ambient particulate matter and ambient ozone pollution increased by 115·3% and 139.2% respectively from 1990 to 2019.

However, the death rate due to household air pollution decreased by 64.2% for the same duration, the study found. It attributed the fall to government schemes such as Unnat Chulha Abhiyan and the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.

A large chunk of the disease burden because of air pollution was from lung diseases (36.6%), which included COPD, lower respiratory infections and lung cancer, the study stated. While the remaining was from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, neonatal disorders and cataract. 

The economic loss

On the economic front, the study revealed that India lost 1·36% of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to air pollution in 2019. The economic loss as a percentage of GDP was highest in Uttar Pradesh (2.15%) followed by Bihar (1.95%), Madhya Pradesh (1.70%), Rajasthan (1.70%), and Chhattisgarh (1.55%).

Total economic loss due to premature deaths and morbidity attributable to air pollution in 2019 (in US$ millions)

Uttar Pradesh lost an estimated $5,130 million due to premature deaths and morbidity attributable to air pollution.

The per capita economic loss due to air pollution was $26.5, with Delhi reporting the highest per capita economic loss of $62.

A united effort

The study recommended that governments, at both the centre and the state levels, should allocate sufficient funds to fight the adverse health impacts of air pollution. Control of air pollution would help to fulfil Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) not only related to health, but it would also alleviate poverty, promote social justice and reduce the pace of climate change, the study stated.

While various government schemes like the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme, National Clean Air Programme, Smart City Mission are already in place to monitor and control ambient air pollution, their implementation leaves a lot to be desired. If India is to achieve its target of a $5 trillion economy by 2024, the central and state governments need to unite and help fight this silent killer effectively.

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