NEW DELHI: The State of Global Air report published by the Health Effects Institute (HEI) has revealed that 16.7 lakh people died as a direct result of poor air quality in India in 2019. It further states that over a lakh of those who died due to severe air pollution in the country were less than a month old. The report, released on Wednesday, October 21, terms air pollution as the biggest health risk in India.
“Outdoor and household particulate matter pollution contributed to the death of more than 1,16,000 Indian infants in their first month of life in 2019. More than half of these deaths were associated with outdoor particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) and others were linked to the use of solid fuels such as charcoal, wood, and animal dung for cooking,” the report said. It further said that long term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths from strokes, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases and neonatal diseases in India in 2019. There is clear evidence of the link between increased air pollution and a rise in heart and lung diseases, creating a growing concern that exposure to poor quality air could exacerbate the effect of COVID-19.
Dan Greenbaum, President, HEI, said that the health of a newborn is of the utmost importance to any society and the results of the report indicate a very grim condition for newborns in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. He added that although there has been a slow and steady decline in reliance of households on poor quality fuels, air pollution continues to remain the biggest threat to newborns.
A growing body of scientific evidence, including studies supported by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), indicates that exposure to particulate air pollution during pregnancy is linked to low birth weight and pre-term birth, the report said. The results further revealed that of the deaths of infants due to all reasons, 21 per cent were due to ambient and household air pollution. Moreover, South Asian countries, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal, featured among the top 10 nations with the highest PM 2.5 exposures in 2019. However, all these countries have also had 50 million fewer people being exposed to household air pollution since 2010.
Schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Household LPG programme have helped to dramatically expand access to clean energy. The effects of these schemes has been witnessed majorly in rural households. In addition to this, the National Clean Air Programme has also spurred strict action against major sources of air pollution in cities and states across India.