Breathe Out: India's Air Quality is Deteriorating Faster Than Ever

NDTV Food  |  Updated: March 01, 2017 14:18 IST

Breathe Out: India's Air Quality is Deteriorating Faster Than Ever
  • India's air quality has deteriorated faster in the past five years
  • Million Indians die from the effects of air pollution every year
  • PM 2.5 is the fifth-biggest killer in the world
India is known worldwide for a lot of reasons; its colourful festivals, spicy food, movies, jewellery, weddings, etc. But of lately, another prominent factor that comes attached, and badly so, is “pollution”. It is indeed alarming the level of pollution levels that are seen in all our major metro cities, especially the capital New Delhi. We may love our winters, but that’s the worst time of the year because we are subjecting our body to toxic levels of pollutants, way beyond what is considered as safe. According to a report by State of Global Air 2017, India’s air quality has deteriorated faster in the past five years to 2015, as compared to the period before 2010. And we have already heard that New Delhi is the most polluted city in the world!

In an earlier study, it was found that the number of respiratory disease cases have also increased tremendously in the country – asthma, bronchitis and others. So it comes as no surprise when the report released by the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research organisation, also said that a million Indians die from the effects of air pollution every year, a link that the government has rejected.

Although the rate of death and disability adjusted life years (DALY) has been reducing at more than one per cent a year in India, the indicators slowed between 2010 and 15, indicating a rise in air pollution over the period stalled improvement, according to our analysis of IHME data.(4 Quick-Fix Ways to Tackle Pollution)
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Air Pollution Causing Death

While we were assuming that lifestyle diseases are causing maximum death in the population, air pollution is not far behind. According to the IHME data, death per 100,000 population in India due to air pollution may have reduced from 165 in 1990 to 135 in 2010. But the rate remained almost the same in the five-year period under consideration: 2010-15.

India has better air quality than Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh, but its air quality is about 50 per cent worse air than China, two times worse than South Africa and five times worse than the United Kingdom. In the six countries considered for analysis, India reported the worst deaths-per-population ratio: 135 dead per 100,000 people.

The figures show that air quality in Saudi Arabia has been improving since 2010, at a rate faster than the rate of deterioration in India.

PM 2.5 – the Killer

Air pollution due to particulate matter - fine particles made up of oxides of sulphur, nitrogen and carbon - especially PM 2.5, is the fifth-biggest killer in the world, after the diseases related to the heart and diabetes, as stated in the IHME report.

PM 2.5 refers to particulate matter known to pose the greatest threat to human health, smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or roughly 1/30th the thickness of a human hair. According to a 2015 study from Harvard University, these particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing heart attacks and strokes, which account for three-quarters of 3.3 million deaths - including 645,000 in India - every year globally.

(3 Yoga Breathing Exercises to Help You Deal With the 'Hazardous' Air Pollution)
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What the Government Has to Say?

The report's findings, specifically the estimate of a million deaths in India every year, were rejected by Environment Minister Anil Dave on February 22.

"There are many serious institutions in India -- NGOs, government organizations -- which do research on this issue," said Dave. "And a proud country always trusts in its own data and takes action on that. (Controlling) air quality is not rocket science. What state governments and local bodies have to do, they have been told a number of times. In the future as well they will be told."

However, Dave's ministry has no studies that link air pollution to death and disability, his officials acknowledged to Mint.

What is not in question is that India's air quality is deteriorating, with even the Environment Ministry releasing on February 21 a list of 94 Indian cities with poor air quality. About half of the global population lives in areas with PM 2.5 concentrations above the World Health Organisation (WHO) interim target (35 µg/m3), but "nearly all (86 per cent) of the most extreme concentrations (above 75 µg/m3) were experienced by populations in China, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh", the report said.

In India, and across the rest of the subcontinent, air pollution is largely caused by human-induced factors like smoke from burning of farm residues, vehicles and power plants. Unlike developed countries, where healthy years are lost in the 60+ age group, polluted air affects the 15-44 age-group the most in developing nations, a 1997 World Bank study found.

CommentsInputs from IANS, in arrangement with, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform.

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