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India’s pollution crisis: 2 million lives a year

Industrial pollution is spreading like clouds and covering the setting sun. West Bengal, India. Pollution is now a global issue and must be checked.
Industrial pollution in West Bengal. India’s pollution crisis is leading to the loss of more than two million lives a year.

Air pollution continues to claim millions of lives every year with India leading the world in this regard. More than two million lives are lost to breathing toxic air in the country every year, in a grim reminder that India’s pollution crisis is among the leading threats to its environment and to public health.

The report, prepared by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), found that 8.3 million lives are lost to air pollution every year, making air quality the leading environmental threat to public health. Pollution-related deaths account for fifteen percent of global mortality. In addition, 275 million disability-adjusted life years are lost to pollution annually. 

In 2017, India lost 2,326,771 million lives to pollution. China ranks second, with 1,865,566 lives lost. The two countries – the world’s most populous – are the only nations to lose more than a million lives to pollution every year. The findings heighten the need for action. Ambient air pollution alone killed 1.2 million Indians in 2017. 1,240,529 of India’s pollution-related deaths are premature.

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. Environmental concerns such as pollution have a ruinous effect on public health.

“In order to tackle pollution, we must prioritise it as an issue that affects us all, integrating it into health planning, and increasing funding to allow more research into pollution, such as monitoring pollution and its effects, and developing ways to control pollution,” said Richard Fuller, who chairs the GAHP Board of Directors. “Pollution prevention can be highly cost-effective – helping to improve health and reduce climate impacts, while boosting economies.” 

At present, however, such efforts are insufficient according to Dr. Jack Caravanos, a professor in the College of Global Public Health at New York University and an advisor to GAHP. “Although pollution is one of the world’s leading killers, it does not get the resources commensurate with the impact,” he said, also noting that it is difficult to accurately grasp the full scope of pollution-related mortality. “It is difficult to trace deaths to pollution because there are so many types of pollution and end results. A person dying from a disease, for example, may not be counted as a polluted-related death even if pollution was a major factor.”

India’s pollution crisis has gripped global headlines this year, with multiple cities choking on hazardous air polluted to an extent far above what is considered harmful to human health.  That India has such a high burden of pollution-related mortality is unsurprising, though no less concerning: the country is home to seven of the world’s ten most polluted cities. The effects of pollution are not limited to urban India. Rural areas account for 75 percent of the country’s pollution-related deaths. The latest findings reinforce the importance of action in India, by all stakeholders across sectors. 

“The report reminds us all that pollution is a global crisis,” said Rachael Kupka, acting executive director of GAHP. “It does not matter where you live. Pollution will find you.” 

“The 2019 Pollution and Health Metrics: Global, Regional and Country Analysis” can be accessed here.

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