Pollution Killed 2.4 Million Indians In 2019: How Did Lancet Calculate This?

Air pollution alone has been attributed to be the cause of some 1.6million deaths in India in 2019.

Over 2.3 million people died due to pollution in 2019, a new study by the Lancet indicates. Among these deaths, 1.6 million were caused by air pollution, water pollution caused some 500,000 deaths.

The report said that most of the deaths due to air pollution were caused by 'ambient particulate matter pollution and household air pollution'. "The death rate due to household air pollution decreased by 64·2% from 1990 to 2019, while that due to ambient particulate matter pollution increased by 115·3% and that due to ambient ozone pollution increased by 139·2%," the report said.

While the Lancet report hints at a worrying picture for India, how did the report conclude that pollution killed 2.3 million people in India in 2019 since there is no protocol for the doctors to write "pollution" as the cause of death on death certificates? The same applies to prescriptions. A person may get allergic reaction due to air pollution, it isn't pronounced as a cause on papers.

To understand how the Lancet reached the death numbers, BOOM spoke to experts to know the methodology used in the peer reviewed study.

How is pollution estimated to be a cause of death?

The numbers are indicative, said Avikal Somvanshi,Senior Programme Manager at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). This means that there is no direct cause-and-effect conclusion. However, there are a set of diseases which are attributed to pollution, like air pollution for cardiovascular diseases and water pollution for gastric diseases. "The number of deaths caused by such diseases are correlated to the pollution levels in the area," Avikal said. This is a standard method used by health organisations like the World Health Organisation.

According to the report, the main sources of 'ambient particulate matter pollution' in India are residential and commercial biomass burning, windblown mineral dust, coal burning for energy generation, industrial emissions, agricultural stubble burning, waste burning, construction activities, brick kilns, transport vehicles, and diesel generators.

The Lancet study quotes numbers from 2019, a year before the pandemic began which put a halt on activities like travelling for a while. It was seen during the lockdown in April 2020 how the air quality in different parts of the world improved since the combustion of fuel among other pollution-causing activities had decreased. As such the deaths caused by pollution in the 2020 can be expected to be low in number.

"We estimated exposure to ambient particulate matter pollution, household air pollution, and ambient ozone pollution, and their attributable deaths and disability-adjusted life-years in every state of India as part of the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) 2019," the Lancet report highlights.

Economic impacts of pollution

Air pollution has an adverse effect not only on health of the people but also the economy of the country. The report suggests that the burden of death and disease due to air pollution 'could impede India's aspiration to be a $5 trillion economy by 2024.' "Besides endangering health and shortening lifespan, air pollution adversely affects economic productivity," the Lancet report says.

Updated On: 2022-05-20T16:51:07+05:30
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