New Delhi: A US-study has estimated that India and China together account for more than half of global deaths due to air pollution. The US-based Health Effects Institute’s State of Global Air study, released in Boston on Tuesday, has also found that increasing exposure to air pollution combined with an ageing population has led to India rivalling China in health burden from bad air.
The report states that China’s PM2.5 pollution levels have started stabilising and people’s exposure to particulate pollution has also started declining but it’s on a steep rise in India.
The death rate (deaths per lakh), however, is seeing a declining trend in both the countries. In 1990, China saw 146 air pollution-related deaths per lakh of its population. This decreased to 80 for 2016. India on the other hand saw a steady decline in death rate between 1990 and 2010, when it fell from 150 to 123.
The rate, however, has marginally increased in six years between 2010 and 2016 — the year for which the latest data is available. “Although China experienced substantial increases in population-weighted exposures (PM 2.5) before 2010 — reflecting in part the dramatic scale of economic development in recent decades — since then the exposures have stabilised…,” the report states.
The burden of non-communicable diseases among the ageing population is increasing in developing countries. For example, among those of 70 years of age or older, PM2.5-attributable ischemic heart disease alone accounted for 16.2% of life years lost due to disease or what medical experts call disability adjusted life years (DALYs) in China, 17.8% in India and more than 20% in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East in 2016.
The report further states that Indian and China could be experiencing a “double burden” due to combined exposure to outdoor air pollution and household air pollution. In 2016, a total of 2.45 billion people (33.7% of the global population) were exposed to household air pollution. “India and China — with 43% and 30% of their populations, respectively, using solid fuels —had the largest numbers of people exposed to household air pollution in 2016: 560 million in India and 416 million in China,” the report reads.
“Impact and benefits of action are showing up in health indicators in China. Scale and stringency of action have certainly made a difference,” Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said in reaction to the study. The report acknowledges that the Indian government has begun taking action to improve air quality.
But it says India needs to take aggressive action on reducing emissions from household biomass combustion, coal burning and dust pollution. Overall, the report stated that seven billion people — more than 95 per cent of the world’s population — live in areas with unhealthy air.
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