As many as 16.7 lakh Indians died due to air pollution in 2019, according to a report released by interdisciplinary journal Lancet Planetary Health on Tuesday, December 22. Air pollution deaths constituted 18% of total deaths in the country, it claimed.
This along with premature deaths resulted in 1.36% loss of the country's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in the said year, equivalent to Rs 2.7 lakh crore. The air pollution which claimed 16.7 lakh Indian lives, amounts to Rs 2.1 lakh crore of lost output from premature deaths and Rs 59,120 crore from morbidity.
Lung diseases caused by air pollution constituted the highest share - 36.6% - in the total economic losses. The report 'The India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative' published a paper on the health and economic impact of air pollution, both from indoor and outdoor sources, in Lancet Planetary Health. The paper documented trends in health loss owing to air pollution and its economic impact on every state in the country with the help of the latest improved methods and data.
It further claimed that the indoor or household air pollution led to 64% fewer deaths in the last two decades (1990-2019), but outdoor or ambient air pollution is not only increasing but also killing more people.
"The death rate from outdoor ambient air pollution has increased during this period by 115 per cent," the study noted.
"It is imperative that policy makers at the local and national levels take decisive steps to address this serious threat to public health," Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington's School of Medicine and a co-author of the report, said.
Talking about states, the report said that Delhi suffered the highest per-capita economic loss due to air pollution in 2019. The economic loss due to lost output from premature deaths and illness attributable to air pollution, both indoor and outdoor, as a percentage of state GDP was 1.08% in Delhi.
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).
In terms of the impact of outdoor air pollution alone on state GDP, Delhi logged a loss of 1.06% to its GDP, whereas, UP registered the highest loss to GDP at 1.34% followed by Punjab at 1.22%. The national capital's per capita GDP loss was to the tune of $62 followed by neighbouring Haryana ($53.8).
The economic loss due to lost output from premature deaths and morbidity attributable to ambient particulate matter pollution ranged from $9.5 million in the small northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh to $3188.4 million in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the report pointed out.
As regards the economic losses due to indoor air pollution, Goa had the least loss at $7.6 million and the UP the highest at $1829.6 million.
"The economic loss due to lost output from premature deaths attributable to ambient ozone pollution ranged from $0.4 million in the small northeastern state of Nagaland to $286.2 million in Uttar Pradesh," the study claimed.
The report further mentioned that India is bearing heavy losses to its GDP and productivity because of the health impacts of air pollution.
The findings for each state in India in this paper show wide variations in the impact of air pollution, with the percentage of per capita GDP loss among the highest in the relatively less developed states of the country.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Prof. Vinod Paul, Prof. Vinod Paul, Prof. Vinod Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog said, "This paper provides a robust assessment of the trends and current situation in each state, and highlights that augmenting the existing air pollution control efforts based on the specific situation of each state would be useful. Air pollution and its impact is not a matter for the health sector alone, and the solutions lie in a multi-sectoral approach with a common commitment to reducing exposure to toxic air, which is impacting the health and productivity of Indians."
Prof Balram Bhargava, Secretary to the Government of India, Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, and Director General, ICMR said, "Various government schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana and the Unnat Chulha Abhiyan have aided in reducing household air pollution in India, the benefits of which are suggested in the reducing death rate from it as seen in this paper. Such success encourages us to enhance efforts to reduce outdoor air pollution as well."
"The findings in this analysis show that while 40% of the disease burden 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," he added.
Dr. Pushpam Kumar, Chief Environmental Economist, United Nations Environment Programme, who was behind the conceptualisation of the economic analysis in this study said "These estimates of economic loss (benefits of avoidance) as a result of air pollution across different states of India provide extremely useful insights to central and state level decision makers who would find that the investment in pollution control not only yield attractive return in terms of prevention of loss of life but achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of good health, sustainable cities, climate action, social justice and inclusive economic growth besides others."