Air pollution related disease, deaths cost India Rs 260,000 crores in economic loss: report

A new study has looked at the number of deaths and illnesses caused by air pollution, both indoor and outdoor, during the year 2019 as well as the financial impact it had. The researchers stated that the relation between air pollution and the harmful effect it has on a person’s health is well known but the related economic outcome is not very well researched. The researchers also calculated the economic impact of air pollution for every state of India. The study was a collaboration between researchers from AIIMS, ICMR and IIT-Delhi and is titled ‘Global Burden of Disease Study, 2019’. It has been published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.

It was found that air pollution in India caused 1.67 million deaths which are almost 18 percent of the total deaths in the country. From the 1.67 million deaths, 0·98 million were caused by ambient particulate matter pollution and 0·61 million were caused by household air pollution.

The study found that the main source of ambient particulate matter pollution in India are residential and commercial biomass burning, windblown mineral dust, coal-burning for energy generation, industrial emissions, agricultural stubble burning, waste burning, construction activities, brick kilns, transport vehicles, and diesel generators. Household air pollution is caused by solid fuels used in cooking, like wood, cattle dung, agricultural residues, coal, and charcoal.

Ground-level ambient ozone is produced when pollutants emitted from transport vehicles, power plants, factories, and other sources react in the presence of sunlight with hydrocarbons emitted from diverse sources.

They found that while the death rates due to household pollution decreased by 64·2 percent from 1990 to 2019, deaths caused by ambient particulate matter pollution increased by 115·3 percent and those caused by ambient ozone pollution also increased by 139·2 percent.

Prof Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR remarked in a statement, “Various government schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana and the Unnat Chulha Abhiyan have aided in reducing household air pollution in India, the benefits of which are suggested in the reducing death rate from it as seen in this paper. Such success encourages us to enhance efforts to reduce outdoor air pollution as well.”

Lung diseases made up 40 percent of morbities caused by air pollution while 60 percent of diseases were caused by ischemic heart disease, stroke, diabetes, neonatal deaths related to preterm birth.

Economic loss

According to the study, the economic loss due to premature deaths was Rs 2,12,436 crore ($28.8 billion) and when people got sick because of air pollution, it cost us Rs 59,010 crore ($8 billion) which made up a whopping total of 1.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product or Rs 260,000 crores ($ 36.8 billion).

 Air pollution related disease, deaths cost India Rs 260,000 crores in economic loss: report

Delhi had the highest per-capita economic loss due to air pollution, followed by Haryana in 2019. image credit: Vinay Gupta.

Prof Lalit Dandona, Director of the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, who is National Chair of Population Health at ICMR, Professor at PHFI, and senior author of this paper said, “Improved methods in this paper have led to a higher estimate of the impact of air pollution on health and disease in India than previously estimated. The economic impact of this health loss due to lost productivity is huge at 1.4 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019, besides a roughly estimated expenditure of 0.4 percent of the GDP on the treatment of air pollution-related diseases.”

The health and economic impact of air pollution is highest in the less developed states of India, an inequity that should be addressed,” he added.

According to the study, the economic loss was highest in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. Delhi had the highest per-capita economic loss due to air pollution, followed by Haryana in 2019. The economic loss as a percentage of the state GDP was higher in the northern and central India states, with the highest in Uttar Pradesh (2.2 percent of GDP) and Bihar (two percent of GDP).

What can the government do?

According to a statement by ICMR, India is making good progress in their economy and development and it will be able to improve if air pollution is reduced. However, the study also states that due to premature deaths and loss of output due to diseases, India’s aspiration to be a five trillion dollar economy by 2024 could come could to a grinding halt.

If state governments put in place proper strategies, there could be a reduction of air pollution that would also lead to better health of the people which will in turn also positively affect the economy.

Dr Pushpam Kumar, Chief Environmental Economist, United Nations Environment Programme, who was behind the conceptualisation of the economic analysis in this study said, “These estimates of economic loss (benefits of avoidance) as a result of air pollution across different states of India provide extremely useful insights to central and state-level decision-makers who would find that the investment in pollution control not only yield attractive return in terms of prevention of loss of life but achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of good health, sustainable cities, climate action, social justice and inclusive economic growth besides others.”