Air pollution killed 17 lakh Indians last year

Air pollution killed 17 lakh Indians last year and led to loss of 1.4% of GDP

Air pollution killed 18% of the country's population leading to an economic shortfall of Rs 2,60,000 crore

Commuters make their way along the road amid heavy smoggy condition in Amritsar. Credit: AFP Photo

As India battles air pollution, a new study on Tuesday revealed that last year 17 lakh Indians were estimated to have been killed by toxic air that also accounted for the loss of 1.4% of India’s GDP due to deaths and morbidity caused by polluted air.

In 2019, an estimated 17 lakh individuals died from air pollution in India, which was 18% of the total deaths in the country, while the economic shortfall due to lost output from premature deaths and morbidity from air pollution was equivalent to Rs 2,60,000 crore, according to the study published in Lancet Planetary Health.

For the country as a whole, the economic loss in GDP terms is the maximum in Uttar Pradesh (2.15% of GDP) and Bihar (1.95%). But in southern India, Karnataka (1.22%) tops the list followed by Andhra Pradesh (1.09%) and Tamil Nadu (1.06%).

The study also showed that household air pollution was decreasing over the last two decades resulting in 64% reduction in the death rate attributable to it from 1990 to 2019, whereas the death rate from outdoor ambient air pollution has increased during this period by 115%.

This is a clear indication of how the disease burden due to air pollution shifted from household air pollution caused predominantly by biomass burning has shifted to outdoor air pollution caused by industrial, vehicular and dust pollution.

While calculating the economic losses, the researchers compared the states in terms of their GDP as well as in terms of per capita economic loss.

“The poorer states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh suffer more when they are compared on GDP terms while Delhi had the highest per-capita economic loss due to air pollution, followed by Haryana,” Lalit Dandona, a professor at the Public Health Foundation of India and lead investigator of the study told DH.

In addition, there is a rough estimated expenditure of 0.4% of the GDP on the treatment of air pollution-related diseases.

This study provides the updated estimates of deaths and morbidity attributable to air pollution in every state based on the improved Global Burden of Disease 2019 methods, which reveal that this burden is higher than was previously estimated.

The high burden of air pollution in India and its substantial adverse impact on output could impede India’s overall economic development and social well being unless they are addressed as a priority, they reported.

“The findings show that while 40% of the disease burden is due to air pollution is from lung diseases, the remaining 60% is from ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and neonatal deaths related to preterm birth, highlighting the broad-ranging impact of air pollution on human health," said Balram Bhargava, director-general, Indian Council of Medical Research.

India, said Dandona, would benefit from investing in state-specific air pollution control strategies, as it would facilitate its aspiration of becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2024.