- In India, air pollution is the highest risk factor for public health: Study
- India recorded 24% of global infants deaths due to air pollution in 2019
- India is among top 10 countries with highest ozone exposure in 2019
New Delhi: Air pollution has been recognised as a threat to public health globally and yet, it continues to be ignored in many parts of the world, according to experts. The State of Global Air 2020 report released on Wednesday, revealed that in 2019, air pollution contributed to over 66.7 lakh deaths worldwide including 16.67 lakh in India. The report, which was first launched in 2015 by the Health Effects Institute, a non-profit research organization based in the USA and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s (IHME’s) Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project, has for the first time included the effect of air pollution on the health of the babies. In a shocking revelation, the report has found that in 2019, air pollution has killed nearly 5 lakh babies in their first month of life around the world including about 1.16 lakh babies in India.
Air Pollution Is A Major Life Threat To The Newborns
According to the State of Global Air 2020, exposure to air pollution is causing harm to babies in the womb and can cause premature birth or low birth weight which can lead to a higher infant mortality rate, especially in the developing countries. Nearly two-thirds of the 5 lakh deaths of infants documented in 2019 were associated with indoor air pollution, particularly arising from solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking, highlights the report.
The report revealed that India has recorded the highest share of the global infant deaths in 2019, as much as 24 per cent, because of air pollution.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Polash Mukherjee, Lead- Air Quality, Mobility and Climate Resilience at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said,
Indoor air pollution is as dangerous as the ambient air pollution which has also been made evident by the report. It attributes indoor pollution as the contributing factor in the death of infants in the first month of their lives. Even in the past, the air pollution experts and scientists have highlighted the threats of indoor air pollution. However, indoor air pollution is not a focus for our policymakers yet. Subsidised cooking gas programme of the government has helped but it needs to increase the coverage since households in rural areas are still using bio-fuels like wood and cow-dung for cooking and other energy needs.
He further pointed out that exposure to air pollution affects the survivors too as it damages their lungs, brain and other organs and makes them vulnerable to a number of diseases. He called the findings of the report an eye-opener and recommended that the government must focus even more on reducing indoor air pollution. He said that the district level plans made under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) launched by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in January 2019, should include measures to reduce air pollution in rural areas in a robust way.
Highest PM 2.5 Concentration Exposure In The World Last Year Was Recorded In India
The State of Global Air 2020 found that in 2019, the most polluted regions in the world included South Asia and Africa. Among countries, India recorded the highest annual average Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 (Particulate matter less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers in aerodynamic diameter) concentration exposure in 2019. The report also said that India has been recording an increase in PM 2.5 pollution since 2010. India is also among the top ten countries with highest ozone (O3) exposure in 2019.
Out of the 20 most populous countries, 14 have recorded a gradual improvement in air quality but India, Bangladesh, Niger, Pakistan and Japan are among those that have recorded a modest increase in air pollution levels.
In India, air pollution is the highest risk factor for public health because of the huge burden of premature deaths it contributes to, the report highlighted. Globally, air pollution ranks at fourth, surpassed only by high blood pressure, tobacco use and poor diet.
Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, Research and Advocacy, Centre For Science and Environment said,
The State of Global Air 2020 is a shocker. India has recorded the second highest death burden and very high increase in PM2.5 related deaths – 61 per cent increase since 2010. Mother’s exposure and babies born small and early have increased this risk manifold. Not only that, ozone exposure has also emerged as another serious threat that has increased by 84 per cent since 2010. These stark evidences have very serious implications for the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) as 95 per cent of Indians are breathing air that does not meet the WHO guidelines.
She further noted that tackling air pollution requires sectoral reforms to clean up emissions from vehicles, power plants, industries and local sources like construction and waste. She said,
The focus of NCAP has to go much beyond cities to regional clean up with a strong compliance and accountability strategy. Nation-wide leapfrog to BSVI (Bharat Stage 6) emissions standards and expansion of subsidised LPG programme to poorer households have helped. But a lot more systemic reforms are needed across all key sectors of pollution. National and regional clean air action plans need to ensure enforcement of stricter emissions standards in all sectors, monitoring of real world emissions, clean fuel strategy and favourable pricing of clean fuels, transportation strategy to reduce traffic volumes and massive municipal reforms for waste management and recycling. This change has to take place at a scale across all regions. This makes a strong case for green economic recovery. Economic recovery policies must not lock in more pollution in the longer term.
While talking about the report findings, Vivek Chattopadhyay, air pollution expert based in Delhi said that the union health ministry along with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) as well the environment ministry need to work together to set air pollution reduction targets along with tackling the health impacts of air pollution. He said,
Protecting kids should be our first priority as well as reducing premature deaths. Therefore, the present NCAP target must be revised to make them more stringent. We all breathe same air which our neighbouring states do, so it’s a collective responsibility in the national interest for all states to improve air quality in cities–peri-urban areas– villages– industrial hotspots and others.
The experts have also warned that the areas with high levels of air pollution could also contribute to the severity of COVID-19 cases in the ongoing pandemic.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.