Largest Increase in Pollution Deaths in India, Says Global Study

Pollution is the largest cause of premature deaths worldwide, and India is topping that list, according to a new report by Lancet.

Credit: Reuters

The study says that “the good news” is that pollution can be eliminated. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: A new report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health has taken a sweeping look at pollution related deaths in the world. It has concluded that India and Bangladesh have had the largest increase in numbers of pollution-related deaths. They have looked at data for 2015.

It has also found that pollution is the largest cause of premature deaths worldwide in 2015, accounting for 16% of all deaths. This is thrice as much as the deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. It is also 15 times more than deaths from war and violence.

Southeast Asia also accounts for the largest number of pollution related deaths, in a regional comparison as well. Southeast Asia, as per this study, includes India but excludes China.

The report comes soon after the global hunger index put India at a dismal 100 out of 119 countries in terms of reduction of hunger. While being bottom of that chart, India tops on pollution related deaths according the Lancet Commission.

The commission’s aim was to look at pollution and health and raise global awareness and political will to address the health implications of pollution.

Indian experts have also been part of the global team that wrote this paper, including Jairam Ramesh, former union environment minister, and Professor M Khare from IIT Delhi.

Causes of pollution and those at risk

The commission notes that the traditional ideas of the factors of pollution, as those associated with poverty or traditional lifestyles, are in fact declining. The factors of pollution increasing are those associated with industries such as mining, electricity, agriculture and vehicular pollution. Thus, ambient, chemical and soil pollution, all associated with industries, are increasing.

Given that it is industry-related pollution that is putting people at the risk of disease, the study notes that it is not industrialised nations who are most vulnerable to disease and death. The most vulnerable are poor, low income and middle income countries, minorities and children.

Of the causes of deaths globally in 2015, all types of pollution taken together, was the highest cause of death. Tobacco related disease was the second cause of death. In third place was AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, followed by alcohol, malnutrition, road accidents, drug use, war and ebola.

Under the pollution related deaths, it is air pollution that was the riskiest. This is followed by water pollution, occupational pollution and lastly for soil, chemical and metal related pollution, taken together.

The commission says there’s “good news”

The study says that “the good news” is that pollution can be eliminated and the prevention of pollution makes economic and social sense. For this, it cites the example of the United States. The US has made an aggregate benefit of $1.5 trillion against investments into pollution prevention worth $65 billion, since 1970. The break up is that for every dollar invested in air pollution by the US since 1970, thirty dollars has returned to the economy as a benefit. “Air quality improvements in high income countries have not only reduced deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases but have also yielded economic gains,” says the Commission.

The study also has detailed prescriptions for short term, medium term and long term interventions against pollution. These have been identified for ambient outdoor air pollution, household air pollution, water pollution and sanitation, contaminated soil and water.

For example, for ambient outdoor air pollution, in the short term, the commission asks countries to identify sources of pollutants to enable targeted interventions. This can be done by installing dust management systems, establishing monitoring systems, mandating improved fuel quality and engine standards.

But in the medium term, the commission calls for criteria for cleaner vehicles including testing stations, control on diesel vehicles, incentives for use of electric and hybrid vehicles, upgrading public transport.

In the long term, they ask for expanding public transport, constructing walk ways and cycle paths, and “create mechanisms to discourage vehicle use.”

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  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Yeeeaaaahhhh!!! India tops a global list at last. Time to burst some crackers and celebrate!