Air pollution killed 1.67m Indians in 2019, study finds
Boston College recently published a study of air pollution’s impact on India. The study reports that air pollution resulted in 1.67 million deaths in India in 2019 alone, constituting 17.8% of total annual deaths in India.
The study also finds that deaths caused by indoor air pollution have decreased by 64.2% since 1990. However, in the same period, ambient air pollution induced deaths increased by 115.3%. The changes were mainly attributed to the fact that better cook stoves were available in households while increased demand of transportation and electricity over the years worsened outdoor air quality.
Air pollution is no new issue in India. However, an annual death toll of 1.67 million may surprise many. In 2020, Covid-19 claimed almost two million lives and it drew global attention. Without many knowing it, air pollution killed 1.67 million people in India in a year. The number is shocking. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates air pollution is responsible for about seven million deaths per year.
The situation in India is worrying as the huge increase in ambient air pollution induced deaths was attributed to the “increasing pollutant emissions from rising energy consumption, accelerated urbanisation, rapid industrialisation, and growing numbers of petroleum-powered vehicles.” With India continuing its development, more such deaths would be expected. Meanwhile, studies also suggest that “climate change can amplify the adverse impacts of air pollution through atmospheric stagnation, temperature-driven increases in PM2·5 concentration, and ground-level ozone formation.” The double effect brought by the above factors would make air pollution an even challenging issue.
Apart from the public health dimension, the research point outs that air pollution accounted for $36.8 billion of economic loss in India a year, in terms of the total lost output from premature deaths and morbidity caused by air pollution. It represented 1·36% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Disaster researchers emphasize that disasters are indeed slow processes. There are ways to prepare for and alleviate natural disasters while many man-made disasters are avoidable. Compared to a disaster claiming thousands of lives, air pollution is killing hundreds of times more every year. It is a pity that the awareness paid to air pollution is insufficient. Not only does improving air quality make economic sense, it is also an ethical imperative.
The human toll of air pollution in India
Air pollution in the Western Pacific
Health and economic impact of air pollution in the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019