‘India’s air pollution rivals China’s as world’s deadliest’

Report from U.S.-based health institute points to fine particulate matter as cause for rise in premature deaths

February 15, 2017 02:57 am | Updated 02:59 am IST - New Delhi:

In this November 2015 photo, commuters walk as vehicles move at a traffic signal in New Delhi.

In this November 2015 photo, commuters walk as vehicles move at a traffic signal in New Delhi.

India’s air now rivals China’s as the world’s deadliest, according to a new study published Tuesday amid warnings that efforts to curb pollution from coal will not yield results any time soon. India’s notoriously poor air quality causes nearly 1.1 million premature deaths every year, almost on a par with China, concluded a joint report by two U.S.-based health research institutes.

But whereas deaths linked to air pollution in China have steadied in recent years, the rate has soared in India where smog readings in major cities routinely eclipse safe exposure levels.

India has recorded a nearly 50% increase in premature deaths linked to fine airborne particles known as PM2.5 between 1990 and 2015, the report found.

These microscopic particles are so light they float on air and lodge deep in the lungs, and have been linked to higher rates of lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and heart disease.

“India now approaches China in the number of deaths attributable to PM2.5,” said the report by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Together, the two Asian giants accounted for more than half of all global deaths related to PM2.5 exposure, the report said.

Efforts to cut smog

Efforts to reduce smog in China — which jostles with India for the unenviable title of world’s most polluted country — have seen early deaths from PM2.5 stabilise at around 1.1 million since 2005.

But in India that number has steadily climbed from an estimated 737,400 premature deaths a year in 1990 to 1.09 million in 2015, just shy of China.

“Clearly a much more concerted effort needs to be done to address the adverse impacts of air pollution in India,” said Ajay Mathur, director general of the Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute. India has undergone a rapid economic transformation in the past two decades but burning coal for energy and torching farmland to plant new crops has seen pollution rocket.

India and neighbouring Bangladesh have experienced the steepest increases in pollution since 2010 and now have the highest PM2.5 concentrations in the world, the report said.

A health emergency was declared in New Delhi in November as the concentration of PM2.5 went off the charts into hazardous territory.

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