New Delhi: Air pollution caused one in eight deaths in India last year, besides lowering the average life expectancy by 1.7 years, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said in a report on Thursday. It said air pollution contributed more to the disease burden of Indians than consuming tobacco.
The first comprehensive estimates of deaths, disease burden and life expectancy reduction associated with air pollution across states were collated under the India State Level Disease Burden Initiative—a joint initiative of the ICMR, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in collaboration with the health ministry. The findings have also been published in The Lancet Planetary Health.
About 77% of the populace is exposed to outdoor air pollution levels breaching the safe limit set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, said the report. North India recorded particularly high levels of pollutants.
In 2017, the mean ambient particulate matter PM2.5 annual exposure of 90 g/m3 was one of the highest in the world. The highest PM2.5 exposure level was in Delhi, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana. The report said 1.24 million deaths in India in 2017 were due to air pollution, which included 670,000 deaths due to outdoor particulate matter air pollution and 480,000 deaths due to household air pollution.
The average life expectancy in India would have been 1.7 years higher if air pollution levels were less than the minimal level causing health loss. The highest increase was in Rajasthan (2.5 years), Uttar Pradesh (2.2 years), and Haryana (2.1 years), it added.
“The upsurge in respiratory problems in the winter months with peak air pollution is well known, but what is now also becoming better understood is that air pollution is a year-round phenomenon particularly in north India which causes health impacts far beyond the seasonal rise of respiratory illnesses," said Randeep Guleria, director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
“Air pollution is now the leading risk factor for chronic obstructive lung disease in India, and a major contributor to pneumonia and lung cancer. With 18% of the global population, India suffered 26% of premature mortality and health loss attributable to air pollution globally."
The report also said that over half of deaths due to air pollution claimed people below 70 years. Air pollution now contributes more to the disease burden in India than tobacco use, primarily by causing lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive lung disease, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, and lung cancer.
“We are undertaking a number of initiatives for experts to convene in order to develop strategies that would increase awareness among communities on what each one of us could do to reduce the adverse impact of air pollution on health, which would benefit from the state-specific findings reported by this study," said S. Venkatesh, director general of health services.