Air pollution is killing more people in India than smoking, says study

Every one in eight deaths is caused by air pollution


April 13, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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Dense smog covers Delhi skyline

In 2014, Delhi was named the most polluted city in the world by World Health Organisation (WHO), along with 13 more cities hailing from India in the 20 most polluted cities of world. According to a study titled ‘State of Global Air 2019’, air pollution has contributed to five million deaths globally in 2017.

A report published by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and The Lancet, shows that there has been 1.24 million deaths in India due to air pollution in 2017. It includes that 0.67 million deaths were due to outdoor air pollution and 0.48 million deaths were from household air pollution, as the Lancet Planetary Health has published. The study assessed the deaths due to diseases caused by higher exposure to air pollution like obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, heart diseases, lung diseases and respiratory infections. Death due to tobacco smoking was recorded at one million for the year, in comparison to air pollution.

The recent study published in the European Heart Journal focused on ozone and the hazardous effects of the fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) report, an initiative by WHO which records the causes of deaths and illnesses all over the world also predicted air pollution to be one of the highest agent causing diseases and infections. PM 2.5 was said to have cost three million pre-mature deaths in 2017, most of which is in China and India.

The ‘State of Global Air 2019’, found that only 15 pc of the Indian population lives in areas where the air quality is below the acceptable pollution concentration levels prescribed by the WHO, whereas 90 pc of people worldwide live in areas exceeding the WHO guideline of healthy air. The outdoor pollution from vehicular emissions, factory fumes and construction sites as well as household pollution from burning of solid fossil fuels are contributors to the higher concentration of PM 2.5 which is easy to inhale and enters the bloodstream to affect people.

The study was conducted to compare health loss caused by different diseases and its causes in which air pollution and tobacco use were the highest risks. Although air pollution is commonly associated with lung disease, “a substantial 38 pc of the disease burden due to air pollution in India is from cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Another notable aspect of air pollution in India is its contribution to the disease burden from ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, which are commonly associated with smoking,” noted the study. If the pollution level were less, the average life expectancy in northern India would increase by nearly two years as they are the regions more highly affected by pollution.

“Air pollution is now a year-round phenomenon particularly in north India which causes health impacts far beyond the seasonal rise of respiratory illnesses. It is the leading risk factor for chronic obstructive lung disease and a major contributor to pneumonia and lung cancer,” said Prof Randeep Guleria, director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). “We see the acute effects of air pollution, especially in young children and the elderly, and in people suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease,” he added.

Measures taken

India’s federal Ministry of Health and Family Welfare set up a Steering Committee on air pollution and health-related issues which provided a report on the impact of air pollution on people’s health. According to K Srinath Reddy, the president of the PHFI, this was the first time when air pollution was considered as a health issue rather than environmental issue.

Since India is a growing economy, there is a great rise in road transport and construction which have contributed to the air pollution. In order to combat this issue, the government needs to make “concerted and coordinated effort” as the committee proposed. The proposal also includes measures to be taken for reducing pollution like switching to clean energy sources, reducing road traffic and adopting more eco-friendly solutions like using cycles.

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