Alarming rise in air pollution leads to a disastrous impact not just on public health but also on the country’s economy. The latest international study on the state of pollution has an ominous warning for India. Over 1.67 million deaths in India were attributable to air pollution in 2019, accounting for 17.8% of all deaths. India has lost 1.4% of the GDP due to premature deaths and morbidity from air pollution. This is equivalent to Rs 2.60 lakh crore— more than four times the allocation for healthcare in the Union Budget for 2020-21. Lung diseases caused by air pollution accounted for the highest share — 36.6%— in the total economic losses, according to ‘Lancet Planetary Health.’ Uttar Pradesh had the highest economic losses due to air pollution followed by Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The high burden of air pollution and its substantial adverse impact on output could impede India’s overall economic development and social wellbeing unless they are addressed as a priority, the report has warned. If corrective steps are not taken, it could impede India’s ambitious goal to become a $5-trillion economy by 2024. Diseases attributable to air pollution adversely affect economic growth through reduced productivity, decreased labour supply, rise in healthcare expenditures and lost welfare. The anti-pollution measures being implemented by the Centre and State governments are not enough to tackle the seriousness of the problem on hand.
There is an urgent need to step up investments in State-specific air pollution control strategies to improve population health. Some of the initiatives like ‘Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana’ and ‘Unnat Chulha Abhiyan’ have helped in reducing household air pollution in India but the outdoor pollution is a major cause of worry. In the last two decades, the death rate from outdoor ambient air pollution has increased 115%. Another report—the State of Global Air (SOGA) 2020—has put India on top of the world in terms of annual average exposure to PM 2.5 (particulate matter of 2.5 micrometre diameter) pollutants. Contrary to the NDA government’s claims that annual air pollution levels are coming down, the country has been recording a steady spike in PM 2.5 pollution since 2010. In 2019, over 1.16 lakh infants died within a month after birth due to exposure to severe air pollution. India can learn from experiences in countries like China, which has made significant progress over the years in reducing pollution levels by adopting new technologies and strategies, including energy infrastructure optimisation, coal-fired pollution control and emission controls. Anti-pollution measures must be monitored on a real-time basis to ensure that they yield desired results at the ground level.
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