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‘No conclusive evidence’ – Government on pollution, disease and deaths

KOLKATA, INDIA - 22 Oct 2016: Boys play soccer on the Maidan on October 22, 2016 in Kolkata (Calcutta), India
A group of boys play soccer in the smog on a maidan in Kolkata.

Air pollution is virtually universally acknowledged as a public health emergency in India, with swathes of the country choking beneath blankets of toxic air. However, a Government minister has informed lawmakers that there is a dearth of evidence to prove a link between pollution, disease, and deaths. 

“There is no conclusive data available in the country to establish a direct connection of deaths/diseases exclusively due to air pollution,” Babul Supriyo, Minister of State for Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, informed Rajya Sabha MPs earlier this week. “Apart from the environment, the health of an individual is impacted by food habits, occupational habits, socio-economic status, medical history, immunity and heredity etc..”

Supriyo was replying to a question concerning a Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report. The query cited a statistic contained therein that 97,000 deaths in India in 2016 can be attributed to breathing pollutants released by the combustion of coal. That year, five lakh deaths could be attributed to air pollution the reply added. However, even in the absence of “conclusive data” about pollution, disease and deaths within India, a body of evidence does exist suggestive of manifold deleterious effects of breathing the toxic air to which so many Indians are subject on health. 

In 2017, 1.2 million people lost their lives to pollution according to the 2019 State of Global Air Report. As previously noted by Health Issues India, “the environment in which [these deaths occur] is patently conducive to such a high death toll due to poor air quality. India is home to seven of the world’s ten most polluted cities – the country’s metros likened to “gas chambers” where breathing the air is considered equivalent to smoking fifty cigarettes a day.” Rural environments are far from immune to the effects of pollution – 75 percent of pollution-related mortality in the country is believed to occur in rural areas. 

Pollution is linked to a plethora of health conditions according to numerous pieces of research: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and mental health issues. Children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of pollution. Globally, 630 million children under the age of five breathe toxic air and 700,000 under-five deaths are linked to pollution. In India, pollution killed 195,546 Indian children in 2017 – a rate of one child dying every three minutes. 

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