Air pollution now biggest health risk in India, says report

Long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases and neonatal diseases in India in 2019, according to the State of Global Air 2020 by the U.S.-based Health Effects Institute. Overall, air pollution was now the largest risk factor for death among all health risks, the report noted.

Outdoor and household particulate matter pollution also contributed to the deaths of more than 1,16,000 Indian infants in their first month of life last year. More than half of these deaths were associated with outdoor PM2.5 and others were linked to use of solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking.

For the youngest infants, most deaths were related to complications from low birth weight and preterm birth.

India faced the highest per capita pollution exposure — or 83.2 μg/cubic metre — in the world, followed by Nepal at 83.1 μg/cubic metre and Niger at 80.1, according to the report which sources its data from publicly available sources. Countries with the least population exposure are below 8 micrograms (μg) per cubic metre.

Marginal decline

The government has claimed that average pollution levels in India are declining over the past three years but these have been marginal, particularly in the Indo-Gangetic plains which see extremely high particulate matter pollution especially during winter.

After a decline in pollution due to the nationwide lockdown in late March and the months-long process of reopening, pollution levels are again rising and air quality has dipped to ‘very poor’ category in several cities.

COVID-19, a disease for which people with heart and lung disease are particularly at risk of infection and death, has claimed more than 1,10,000 lives in India. Although the full links between air pollution and COVID-19 are not yet known, there is clear evidence linking air pollution and increased heart and lung disease, creating a growing concern that exposures to high levels of air pollution during winter months in South Asian countries and East Asia could worsen the effects of COVID-19.

“This newest evidence suggests an especially high risk for infants born in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” said HEI president Dan Greenbaum in a statement. “Although there has been slow and steady reduction in household reliance on poor-quality fuels, the air pollution from these fuels continues to be a key factor in the deaths of these youngest infants.”

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 3:27:24 AM |

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