India’s Pollution Problem
What is Pollution?
- The United Nations defines pollution as the presence of substances and heat in the environment (air, water, land) whose nature, location, or quantity produces undesirable environmental effects.
- Pollution includes contamination of air by fine particulate matter (PM2·5); ozone; oxides of sulphur and nitrogen; freshwater pollution; contamination of the ocean by mercury, nitrogen, phosphorus, plastic, and petroleum waste; and poisoning of the land by lead, mercury, pesticides, industrial chemicals, electronic waste, and radioactive waste.
- The Lancet report defines pollution as an unwanted waste of human origin released into air, land, water, and the ocean without regard for cost or consequence. It also defines ‘modern forms of pollution as ambient air pollution and toxic chemical pollution.
Why in news?
- The findings have revealed in a recent report— ‘Pollution and health: a progress update’, published in “The Lancet Planetary Health journal” that Pollution continues to be the biggest environmental health hazard, resulting in millions of premature deaths globally every year.
- The report takes into account data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study 2019.
- The Lancet study notes that Pollution is responsible for 90 lakh deaths each year across the world. The number has not changed since 2015. More than 65% of deaths have been caused by modern forms of pollution like ambient air pollution and toxic chemical pollution over the past 20 years.The main factors behind this substantial rise are industrialisation, urbanization, population growth, fossil fuel combustion, and an absence of adequate national or international chemical policy.
- The GBD 2019 data shows that the effect of pollution on disease and disability varies by sex. The new Lancet study states that men are more likely to die from exposure to ambient air pollution, lead pollution, and occupational pollutants than women. Women and children are more likely to die from exposure to water pollution than men.
- According to the study, Over 90% of pollution-related deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries. Pollution is also responsible for more deaths, war, terrorism, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs, and alcohol. It kills almost the same number of people as smoking.
- Of the 90 lakh pollution-related premature deaths in 2019, air pollution caused the maximum number of deaths, at 66.7 lakhs, while water pollution was responsible for 13.6 lakh premature deaths. Ambient or outdoor pollution was exclusively responsible for 45 lakh deaths in 2019, which increased from 42 lakh in 2015 and 29 lakh in 2000. Researchers have attributed the increase to a rise in ambient air pollution and the incidence of non-communicable diseases linked to air pollution.
- The study notes that there has been a decline in the number of deaths due to pollution as a function of extreme poverty. These reductions in deaths from household air pollution and water pollution, however, are offset by increased deaths related to general air pollution and chemical pollution.
Pollution in India
- India saw 16.7 lakh air pollution-related deaths in 2019. The majority of such deaths, 9.8 lakh, were caused by PM2.5 pollution.
- PM2.5 pollution is well above WHO guidelines in 93% of areas in India. The world health body had recently lowered its global air quality guideline value for PM2.5 from 10 microgram per cubic metre to 5 microgram per cubic metre.
- The study notes that deaths due to traditional pollution, defined as household air pollution from solid fuels, unsafe water, and sanitation, have reduced by more than 50 per cent since 2000.
- The researchers stated that the burning of biomass in households was the single largest cause of air pollution deaths in India, followed by coal combustion and crop burning.
- Air pollution is most severe in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, located in northern India. As per the 2021 World Air Quality Report by Swiss-based IQAir, 35 of the 50 cities with the most toxic air were in India. New Delhi was found to be the most polluted capital city in the world for the fourth consecutive year.
Impact on Economic Front
- The study adds that excess deaths due to pollution have led to economic losses totalling $4.6 trillion in 2019, equivalent to 6.2% of global economic output.
- Economic losses associated with deaths due to pollution are calculated by considering the output lost when a person dies prematurely.
- In India, economic losses due to modern forms of pollution like ambient particulate matter air pollution, and lead exposure have increased between 2000 and 2019 and now accounts for approximately 1% of its gross domestic product (GDP).
- Economic effects of air pollution are severe in east Asia and the Pacific, where losses are equivalent to 9·3% of GDP and in South Asia, where losses are equivalent to 10·3% of GDP.
How to prevent Pollution related deaths?
- The researchers came up with eight recommendations to reduce pollution-related deaths and some of them are as follows:
- Affected countries should focus resources on addressing air pollution, lead pollution, and chemical pollution which are key issues in modern pollution.A massive rapid transition to wind and solar energy will reduce ambient air pollution in addition to slowing down climate change.
- An increased funding for pollution control from governments and philanthropic donors.
- An independent, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-style science/policy panel on pollution.
- Researchers have called for better monitoring, better reporting and stronger government systems regulating industries and automobiles.
What is a Premature Death?
- When a fatality occurs before the average age of death in a population, it is termed as a premature death.
- In India, the average life expectancy at birth in 2019 was 69.5 years for men and 72 years for women. It came down to 67.5 years and 69.8 years, respectively, in 2020.
- The World Health Organization defines YLL as a measure of premature mortality that takes into account both the frequency of deaths and the age it occurs.
- The concept is used for better understanding of the cause of premature deaths, and is employed for public health planning and prevention.
View all comments