Air pollution in India was responsible for the deaths of 1,69,400 children under the age of five years in 2021, according to the State of Global Air 2024 report. This means that around 464 children died every day in India that year due to diseases caused by air pollution.

The report provided analysis of data for air quality and health impacts for countries around the world. It defined air pollution as a complex mixture including particles and different gases with sources and composition varying over space and time.

The report estimated the number of premature deaths by referring to the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2021 carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The study is a collaboration of more than 10,000 international researchers that produces comparable global estimates of 88 environmental, behavioural, and dietary risk factors on health from 1990 to 2021.

Governments typically measure only a small subset as indicators of the different types of air pollution and major sources contributing to that pollution. These pollutants include particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide, and are known to harm our health and ecosystems.

Indicators like PM2.5, Nitrogen Dioxide, and ozone are used to quantify air pollution exposure in the Global Burden of Disease study.

PM2.5 is particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, which can enter the lungs and the bloodstream. The concentration of these pollutants in the air determines the air quality of a place.

In 2021, air pollution accounted for 81 lakh deaths globally, becoming the second leading risk factor for death, including for children under five years, the State of Global Air report said.

Among these, noncommunicable diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease accounted for nearly 90% of the disease burden from air pollution.

According to the report, more than 7,00,000 deaths in children under five years were linked to air pollution. This represents 15% of all global deaths in children under five.

The study noted that one of the best-studied impacts of pollution exposure in young children relates to asthma.

“Air pollution’s impacts in terms of quality of life, medication costs, loss of school days, and frequent hospital visits impose substantial social and economic burdens on children, their families, and health systems,” the report said.

Exposure to traffic-related air pollution can increase a child’s chance of developing asthma, the study said. “Nitrogen dioxide is the air pollutant most consistently related to asthma incidence in children, who often suffer years of poor health as a result,” it said.

The report found that countries in South Asia and East, West, Central, and Southern Africa experience the largest number of diseases linked to air pollution.

India and China together account for 54% of the total global disease burden due to air pollution. In India air pollution accounted for 21 lakh deaths and in China it caused 23 lakh deaths.