Here’s how air pollution is affecting Indians’ health

By Elton Gomes

The life expectancy rate for Indians has reduced by 1.7 years due to air pollution, a new study said. The study pointed out that northern states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar had the worst levels of air pollution.

Additionally, the report also stated that one in every eight deaths in India is attributable to air pollution which now contributes to more disease burden than smoking.

This study recorded the first comprehensive estimates of deaths, disease burden, and life expectancy reduction associated with air pollution in each state of India, and has been published in The Lancet Planetary Health. The study was released on December 6.

It was conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

What does the report say?

Air pollution now contributes to more disease burden in India than non-communicable diseases caused by tobacco use. The polluted air causes lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive lung disease, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and lung cancer, the study noted.

This means that the government now needs to include air pollution in the National Non Communicable Diseases programme.

The report mentioned that the annual population-weighted mean exposure to ambient particulate matter PM2.5 in India was 89.9 ?g/m3 in 2017. As much as 76.8 percent of India’s population has been found exposed to annual population-weighted mean PM2.5 greater than 40 ?g/m3, which is the limit recommended by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in India.

Delhi had the highest annual population-weighted mean PM2.5 in 2017, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Haryana in north India. All these areas recorded mean values greater than 125 ?g/m3. Of the 1.24 million deaths attributable to air pollution, more than half were people below 70 years.

The researchers also calculated the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) rate due to air pollution. The DALY rate due to ambient particulate matter pollution was highest again in north Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Punjab, and Rajasthan.

“In India, the major sources of ambient particulate matter pollution are coal burning for thermal power production, industry emissions, construction activity and brick kilns, transport vehicles, road dust, residential and commercial biomass burning, waste burning, agricultural stubble burning, and diesel generators,” the study said, as per a report in DownToEarth.

The study further said that Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Haryana together recorded the highest number of deaths (54 percent) that are attributable to air pollution.

Although the study’s findings call for more concerted efforts towards controlling air pollution, ICMR DG Balram Bhargava said that a steering committee has already been formed. This committee includes several ministries, including, health, environment, forest and climate change, and several others to address the issue.

Tackling air pollution

Air pollution has been a growing menace and immediate steps should be taken by the citizens and the government to tackle it. The first and most basic step that can be undertaken is a plantation drive. Governments should launch a campaign to plant trees in the city, since fresh air can thoroughly counter the excessive amount of pollutants.

With regards to burning of waste, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued directions to all authorities to strictly implement orders concerning the ban on burning of waste. The tribunal called for an action as well as a “list of offenders” from all authorities on the next date of hearing. This should help in curbing air pollution as tightening the norms could result in the lowering of pollution.

Government rules such as odd/even can be helpful in tackling air pollution as they reduce the number of cars on the road. The idea behind such a rule is to reduce congestion as well as to reduce pollution resulting from vehicular emissions.

Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius

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