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Air pollution 5th biggest killer in India
Jan 20, 2014

Outdoor air pollution has become the fifth largest killer in India after high blood pressure, indoor air pollution, tobacco smoking, and poor nutrition – says a new set of findings of the Global Burden of Disease report. The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) report is a world-wide initiative involving the World Health Organization which tracks deaths and illnesses from all causes across the world every 10 years. The India specific findings were officially released at a Dialogue Workshop jointly organized by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Indian Council of Medical Research and the US-based Health Effects Institute.

The report says that in 2010, about 620,000 premature deaths occurred in India from air pollution-related diseases.

The India-specific analysis has been done using estimates of air pollution exposure at the national level and incidence of leading causes of deaths, aided by ground-level measurements, satellite remote sensing and models to capture population exposure. The GBD assessment follows a rigorous scientific process involving over 450 global experts and partner institutions including the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the WHO, the Health Effects Institute, the University of Queensland, Australia, Johns Hopkins University, and Harvard University.

The key new findings - India

a) Shocking increase in Indian death toll: Air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death in India, with 620,000 premature deaths in 2010. This is up from 100,000 in 2000 – a six-fold increase.

b) Massive loss in healthy years: Air pollution is the seventh leading cause behind the loss of about 18 million healthy years of life due to illness. It comes after indoor air pollution, tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, childhood underweight, low nutritional status, and alcohol use.

c) Respiratory and cardiovascular diseases key reasons for air pollution-induced premature deaths: These diseases include stroke (25.48%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (17.32%), Ischemic heart disease (48.6%), lower respiratory infections (6.4%), and trachea, bronchus and lung cancer (2.02%).

Trends in polluted cities

a) Close to half the cities are reeling under severe particulate pollution while newer pollutants like nitrogen oxides, ozone and air toxics are worsening the public health challenge.

b) Vulnerable urban population:
Half of the urban population breathes air laced with particulate pollution that has exceeded the standards. As much as one third of the population is exposed to critical levels of particulate pollution. Smaller and more obscure cities are amongst the most polluted.

c) More cities in grip of PM10:
About 78% cities (141) exceed the PM10 standard. 90 cities have critical levels of PM10; 26 have the most critical levels, exceeding the standard by over three times. Gwalior, West Singhbhum, Ghaziabad, Raipur, and Delhi are the top five critically polluted cities.

d) More cities in grip of NO2:
About 10% of the cities (19) exceed the NO2 standard. Of these, about nine have critical levels. Howrah, Barrackpore, Badlapur, Ulhasnagar and Asansol are the top five critically polluted cities.

e) State of SO2 pollution: One city -- Lote in Maharashtra -- exceeds the SO2 standard. Moderate levels of SO2 are noted in Jamshedpur and Saraikela Kharsawan in Jharkhand; Chandrapur, Badlapur, Ulhasnagar, and Pune in Maharashtra; Ghaziabad and Khurja in UP, Dehradun in Uttarakhand and Marmagao and Curchorem in Goa.

f) Cities with double-trouble -- particulates and NO2: Howrah, Barrackpore, Asansol, Durgapur, Sankrail, Raniganj, Kolkata (West Bengal), Badlapur and Ulhasnagar (Maharashtra) have critical levels of NO2 and PM10. Delhi, Haldia, Bicholim, Jamshedpur, Meerut, Noida, Saraikela Kharsawan, Jalgaon and Raipur have high levels of NO2 as well as critical levels of PM10.

g) Worsening trend since 2005: The PM10 monitoring network has doubled between 2005 and 2010 from 96 to 180 cities. During this period the cities with low level of pollution have fallen from 10 to 2, while the number of critically polluted cities has increased from 49 to 89. In 2005 about 75% of the cities exceeded the standard. In 2010, 78% are exceeding the standard. NO2 monitoring has expanded from 100 cities in 2005 to 177 in 2010. In 2005 only one city had exceeded the standard for NO2; in 2010, 19 cities have exceeded the standard. The tightening of the national ambient air quality standards has also changed the air quality profile of the cities.

h) Stabilisation in some cities: Some mega cities that have initiated some pollution control action in recent years have witnessed either stabilisation or some decrease in the levels.

What should India do?

a) Make National Ambient Air Quality Standards legally binding in all regions: The national air quality planning and city action plans need a roadmap for each source of pollution and aggressive measures. Impose penalty on cities if air quality standards are violated.

b) Prepare stringent vehicle technology and fuel quality roadmap, encourage in-use vehicle management: It is shocking that the terms of reference of the new committee that has been set up to propose the next Auto Fuel Policy Roadmap does not even include public health in its agenda. Make urgent timelines for Euro V and Euro VI emissions standards. Restrain dieselization.

c) Control and cut increase in vehicle numbers by scaling up public transport, non-motorised transport, compact city planning and car restraint measures.

d) Strengthen implementation plans for critically polluted notified areas

e) Account for health cost in decision making: Valuation of acute and chronic illnesses must be linked to decision on air pollution control measures.

f) Put in place a public information system on daily air quality with health advisories and implement smog alert and pollution emergencies measures.


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