- India saw over 23.5 lakh premature deaths due to pollution of all types in 2019
- Of nearly 2.4 mn deaths in 2019, air pollution accounted for 16.7 lakh deaths in India
- More than 5 lakh lives were lost in the country due to water pollution in 2019
India saw over 23.5 lakh premature deaths due to pollution of all types- including 16.7 lakh fatalities caused by air pollution- in 2019, the highest among all countries globally, according to a new study published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal.
The majority of air pollution related deaths- 9.8 lakh- in India were caused by ambient PM2.5 pollution- tiny pollution particles in the air that are two and one half microns or less in width, the researchers said.
Another 6.1 lakh were due to household air pollution, they said.
World-wide data based on pollution-related deaths:
Globally, pollution of any kind was responsible for nine million deaths in 2019- equivalent to one in six deaths worldwide- and India leads with nearly 2.4 million deaths.
Of the nearly 2.4 million deaths in 2019, air pollution accounted for 16.7 lakh deaths - the highest by any country. Further, more than 5 lakh lives were lost in the country due to water pollution, followed by occupational pollution (more than one lakh) and lead exposure (over 2 lakh).
Globally, of the nine million pollution - attributable deaths in 2019, air pollution (both household and ambient) remains responsible for the greatest number of deaths at 6.67 million worldwide.
The decline in deaths from traditional pollution since 2000 (household air pollution from solid fuels and unsafe water) is most evident in Africa. This can be explained by improvements in water supply and sanitation, antibiotics and treatments, and cleaner fuels.
Deaths due to traditional pollution (household air pollution from solid fuels and unsafe water, sanitation, and hand washing) in India have reduced by more than 50 per cent since 2000, the report said.
"The health impacts of pollution remain enormous, and low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt of this burden. Despite its enormous health, social and economic impacts, pollution prevention is largely overlooked in the international development agenda,” said study lead author Richard Fuller, from Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, Geneva, Switzerland.
"Attention and funding has only minimally increased since 2015, despite well-documented increases in public concern about pollution and its health effects," Fuller said in a statement.
What researchers said about pollution in India?
In India, air pollution is most severe in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (northern India), where topography and meteorology concentrate pollution from energy, mobility, industry, agriculture, and other activities, the researchers said.
According to the study, burning of biomass in households was the single largest cause of air pollution deaths in India, followed by coal combustion and crop burning.
Population-weighted mean exposure to ambient air pollution peaked nationally in India at 95 milligrammes per cubic metre (mg/m3) in 2014, was reduced to 82mg/m3 by 2017, but more recently has been rising slowly again, the researchers said.
"India has developed a range of instruments for tackling air pollution, including a National Clean Air Program, and in 2019 launched a Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region. State Pollution Control Boards have regulatory powers to impose and enforce emissions standards on pollution sources,” the authors of the study noted.
"However, India does not have a strong centralised administrative system to drive its air pollution control efforts and consequently improvements in overall air quality have been limited and uneven," they said.
The report noted that India's PM2.5 pollution remains well above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines of 10 microgram per cubic metre in 93 per cent area of the country.
Take of WHO on pollution:
The WHO had recently tightened its health-based global air quality guidelines, lowering the guideline value for PM2∙5 from 10 microgram per cubic metre to 5 microgram per cubic metre.
Excess deaths due to pollution have led to economic losses totalling USD 4∙6 trillion in 2019 globally, which is 6.2 per cent of global economic output, it said.
Economic losses due to modern forms of pollution- ambient particulate matter air pollution, ozone pollution, lead exposure, occupational carcinogens, gases, fumes- have increased between 2000 and 2019 in India and are now approximately 1 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), it said.
The new report is an update to The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health.
The report states that although the number of deaths from pollution sources associated with extreme poverty (such as indoor air pollution and water pollution) have decreased, these reductions are offset by increased deaths attributable to industrial pollution such as ambient air pollution and chemical pollution.
"Pollution is still the largest existential threat to human and planetary health and jeopardises the sustainability of modern societies," said study co-author Professor Philip Landrigan, Director, Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College, US.
"Preventing pollution can also slow climate change- achieving a double benefit for planetary health- and our report calls for a massive, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy," Landrigan said.
The new report provides updated estimates for the health effects of pollution based on the most recently available 2019 GBD data and methodological updates, as well as an assessment of trends since 2000.
Role of water pollution in overall fatalities:
The researchers said water pollution was responsible for 1.36 million premature deaths globally. Lead contributed 900,000 premature deaths, followed by toxic occupational hazards at 870,000 deaths.
However, this mortality decrease has been offset by a substantial increase in deaths from exposure to industrial pollution - such as ambient air pollution, lead pollution, and other forms of chemical pollution - across all regions over the past 20 years.
This is particularly evident in Southeast Asia, where rising levels of industrial pollution are combined with ageing populations and increasing numbers of people exposed.
Role of air pollution in fatalities:
Ambient air pollution was responsible for 4.5 million deaths in 2019, up from 4.2 million deaths in 2015 and 2.9 million in 2000. Deaths from hazardous chemical pollutants increased from 0.9 million in 2000, to 1.7 million in 2015, to 1.8 million in 2019, with 900,000 deaths attributable to lead pollution in 2019.
Overall, deaths from modern pollution have increased by 66 per cent in the past two decades, from an estimated 3.8 million deaths in 2000 to 6.3 million deaths in 2019. Figures on deaths from chemical pollutants are likely to be underestimated as only a small number of manufactured chemicals in commerce have been adequately tested for safety or toxicity, the report noted.
Excess deaths due to pollution have also led to economic losses totaling $4.6 trillion in 2019, equating to 6.2 per cent of global economic output.
The study also notes pollution's deep inequity, with 92 per cent of pollution-related deaths, and the greatest burden of pollution's economic losses, occurring in low-income and middle-income countries.
The study also provided recommendations such as the need for an independent, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC)-style science/policy panel on pollution, alongside increased funding, and improved pollution monitoring and data collection.
(With agencies inputs)