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Explained: What Lancet Commission says about the impact of pollution on India’s GDP

The study notes that economic losses due to modern forms of pollution have increased as a proportion of GDP between 2000 and 2019 in India, China, and Nigeria.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: May 19, 2022 11:32:26 am
A pedestrian walks on a bridge above vehicle traffic in New Delhi, as the city is enveloped under thick smog. (AP, file)

A latest Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health says that increases in deaths due to modern forms of pollution were particularly evident in south Asia, east Asia and southeast Asia. The factors responsible for this include rising ambient air pollution, rising chemical pollution, ageing populations and increased numbers of people exposed to pollution.

Significantly, India remains one of the worst affected countries when it comes to air pollution.

The report also estimated the present value of future output lost when a person dies prematurely due to pollution in six regions, including India, China, Ethiopia, Nigeria, the US and EU15. It said that in the year 2000, India lost output equivalent to 3.2 per cent of its GDP as a result of pollution.

Further, the study notes that economic losses due to modern forms of pollution have increased as a proportion of GDP between 2000 and 2019 in India, China, and Nigeria, and are now conservatively estimated to amount to approximately 1 per cent of GDP in each of these countries.

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Overall, as a result of pollution, 9 million people die prematurely per year, which corresponds to one in six deaths worldwide. In fact, air pollution remains responsible for causing most deaths in the world, causing about 6.7 million deaths in 2019. Water pollution was responsible for about 1.4 million deaths. Even so, there has been some reduction in the deaths attributable to the types of pollution associated with extreme poverty.

Pollution and its cost

The global cost of fossil fuel air pollution is estimated to be about US $8 billion per day.

Greenpeace, in its World Air Quality Report 2021, which was released in March, noted New Delhi as the most polluted capital in the world, in terms of PM 2.5. PM 2.5, one of the principal pollutants in Northern Indian cities including Delhi, is estimated to cause over 3,000,000 premature deaths.

These deaths lead to the loss of 62,700,000 years of life, 2,700,000 emergency room visits due to asthma, 2,000,000 preterm births and 1,755,200,000 work absences. Of these over 2 million preterm births, over 350,000 are in China and 981,000 in India.

The report mentions that in 2021, Central and South Asia had some of the world’s worst air quality and were home to 46 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities. Further, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, 70 per cent of global air quality related deaths occur in this region.

In fact, except in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, PM2.5 concentrations increased in Central and South Asian countries in 2021, which negated the quarantine-related improvements in the air quality. The global response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the form of stringent lockdowns had led to a dip in greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions and air pollution.

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Air pollution in India

About India, the Lancet report says that in 93 per cent of India, the amount of pollution remains well above the WHO guidelines. It says that in 2019, India had the largest estimated number of pollution-related deaths, even though some effort has been made to deal with it through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana programme.

The scheme was launched by the Narendra Modi Government in 2016 and is aimed at making LPG connections available to rural households.

A 2019 study published by the Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre noted that the single greatest contributor to air pollution in India was the burning of solid fuels in households.

According to the first independent impact assessment of the government’s flagship scheme released in March 2022, greater penetration and usage of LPG as a cooking fuel is estimated to have prevented at least 1.5 lakh pollution-related premature deaths in the year 2019.

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First published on: 18-05-2022 at 07:11:32 pm
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