Pollution caused over 23 lakh premature deaths in India in the year 2019, of this 16.7 lakh were due to air pollution, accounting for 17·8% deaths in the country that year, a new study published by The Lancet shows.

Despite making efforts against household air pollution, most notably through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana programme, India had the world’s largest estimated number of air pollution-related deaths in 2019, the study shows.

A majority of these deaths were from ambient particulate matter pollution (9.8 lakh) and household air pollution (6.1 lakh), shows the study, which estimates that lost output from premature deaths and morbidity due to air pollution accounted for economic losses of $28·8 billion and $8 billion, respectively. This total loss of $36·8 billion was 1·36% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) in that year.

Delhi had the highest per-capita economic loss due to air pollution, followed by Haryana in 2019, with 5·4 times variation across all states.

The report flags a high burden of death and disease due to air pollution and associated adverse economic impact could impede India’s aspiration to be a $5 trillion economy by 2024, a mega envisaged by the Modi government. "Successful reduction of air pollution in India through state-specific strategies would lead to substantial benefits for both the health of the population and the economy," the report adds.

The Lancet study finds that pollution remains responsible for around 9 million deaths per year, corresponding to one in six deaths worldwide. This number has not changed since 2015, it says. Air pollution (both household and ambient air pollution) was responsible for the greatest number of deaths, causing 6∙7 million deaths in 2019. Water pollution was responsible for 1∙4 million premature deaths, the study shows.

"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∙0% of GDP in each of these countries," the study shows.

Talking about the efforts being done by two big economies -- India and China -- the study finds that both countries with massive pollution challenges have been making substantial investments in monitoring and planning to support pollution reduction efforts.

It says due to extensive efforts by China to control the burning of solid fuels, there's a marked decrease in the amount of pollution. In the Beijing alone, mean ambient PM2·5 concentrations have dropped by nearly 40%, it said. India, however, has developed instruments and regulatory powers to mitigate pollution sources but there is no centralised system to drive pollution control efforts and achieve substantial improvements. "In 93% of India, the amount of pollution remains well above WHO guidelines," the study finds.

The report calls for a global action against all major modern pollutants, which can synergise with other global environmental policy programmes like transition from all fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy. It says the affected countries must focus resources on addressing air pollution, lead pollution, and chemical pollution, which are the key issues in modern pollution. A massive rapid transition to wind and solar energy will reduce ambient air pollution in addition to slowing down climate change, the study asserts.

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