Alarming levels of air pollution killed 16.7 lakh Indians last year, accounting for nearly 18% of the total deaths recorded in 2019, a report published in the medical journal, The Lancet, showed on Tuesday. This resulted in an economic loss of Rs 2.6 lakh crore – equivalent to 1.4% of India’s Gross Domestic Product – as premature deaths shrank the country’s productivity.
The high burden of death and disease due to air pollution and its associated substantial adverse economic impact from loss of output could impede India’s aspiration to be a $5 trillion economy by 2024, said the report titled, Health and economic impact of air pollution in the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. It could also impede India’s social well-being unless problems are addressed as a priority, it said.
The study, conducted by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, documented the trends of loss of life due to air pollution and its economic impact in every state of India using the latest improved methods and data.
It found that the economic loss due to air pollution as a percentage of the state GDP was higher in the northern and central India states, with the highest in Uttar Pradesh (2.2% of GDP) and Bihar (2% of GDP). Delhi had the highest per-capita economic loss due to air pollution, followed by Haryana in 2019.
“The variations in these impacts between states indicate that investments in state-specific air pollution control strategies are needed to reduce the significant adverse health and economic impact of air pollution across India,” the report said.
Director of the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative Lalit Dandona told the Hindustan Times that this glaring inequality among states needs to be examined.
“The economic impact of this health loss due to lost productivity is huge at 1.4% of the country’s GDP in 2019, besides a roughly estimated expenditure of 0.4% of the GDP on the treatment of air pollution-related diseases,” said Dandona, who is also one of the authors of the study. “The health and economic impact of air pollution are highest in the less developed states of India, an inequity that should be addressed.”
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Researchers also studied the exposure of Indians to ambient particulate matter pollution, household air pollution, and ambient ozone pollution, and their attributable deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death) in every state.
Of the total deaths attributable to air pollution in India in 2019, the largest proportions were due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD (32.5%), and ischaemic heart disease (29.2%), followed by stroke (16.2%) and lower respiratory infections, the study found.
Of the total economic loss of Rs 2.6 lakh crore attributable to air pollution in India in 2019, 36.6% was from lung diseases, which included COPD (21.1%), lower respiratory infections (14.2%), and lung cancer (1.2%), and the rest was from ischaemic heart disease (24.9%), stroke (14.1%), diabetes (8.4%), neonatal disorders (13.3%), and cataract (2.7%).
The research further noted that while the mortality from indoor air pollution reduced by 64% between 1990 and 2019, that from outdoor ambient air pollution increased by 115% during this period. Deaths due to ambient ozone pollution increased by 139.2%.
The economic loss due to lost output from premature deaths and morbidity attributable to household air pollution as a percentage of state GDP in India was 0.49% . This proportion was highest in Bihar (0.98%), Chhattisgarh (0.89%), Madhya Pradesh (0.88%), Assam (0.84%), Rajasthan (0.79%), and Uttar Pradesh (0.77%), which have a relatively low per-capita GDP, the report said.
Deaths attributed to ambient ozone pollution as percentage of India’s Gross Domestic Product was 0.05%. In terms of ambient particulate matter, the loss ranged from $9.5 million in Arunachal Pradesh to $3188.4 million in Uttar Pradesh, and that attributable to household air pollution ranged from $7.6 million in Goa to $1829.6 million in Uttar Pradesh, the study said.