Pollution deaths cause for alarm

Pollution deaths cause for alarm

Pollution is far deadlier than widely believed hitherto. A report published in The Lancet journal says that in 2015, pollution claimed the lives of nine million people worldwide. This is 16% of all deaths that year. The general perception is that pollution causes itchy eyes, difficulty in breathing or a throbbing headache. It does. But worryingly, pollution culminates in heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and causes premature deaths, the study points out. The magnitude of its deadly impact can be gauged from the fact that pollution-related deaths outstrip by a large margin the number of deaths due to other reasons. Pollution kills three times more people than does AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria put together, and 15 times more than war and violence-related fatalities. And India has reason to be worried, even alarmed. Pollution led to 2.5 million premature deaths in India in 2015, the highest in the world. Roughly 25% of all deaths that year in India were linked to pollution. China stood second with 1.8 million pollution-related deaths in 2015.

The impact of pollution and its damaging effects on health, environment and societies has been largely ignored or downplayed by governments for decades. Even the international development agenda failed to prioritise it. But pollution is costly not only in terms of human lives but also economic losses. Pollution-related diseases cause productivity losses that reduce GDP growth in low-income to middle-income countries by up to 2% per year. On top of that, pollution-related healthcare costs account for 7% of all health spending in middle-income countries. It is time the world woke up to the fact that pollution is not just an environmental issue but a matter that is central to human survival.

Pollution can be eliminated and pollution prevention is “highly cost-effective”, the report points out. It underscores the need for pollution prevention to be accorded top priority nationally and internationally and integrated into the planning process at all levels. Pollution control needs to be factored into the development agenda. The report calls for an increase in budget allocations for pollution prevention. Advanced economies must step up financial and technological support to poor and developing countries as the latter bear the brunt (92%) of all pollution-related deaths. Such support will benefit both sides; after all, pollution is not a local issue, its impact is felt globally. India needs to take pollution more seriously. While improving public transport systems would reduce air pollution, scientific sewage treatment and halting the flow of chemicals or dumping construction debris in water bodies will help reduce water pollution.

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