Exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to over 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017, a new global study said on Wednesday.
The study titled "State of Global Air 2019" reported that the life on average of a South Asian child growing up in current high levels of air pollution will be shortened by two years and six months, while the global life expectancy loss is 20 months.
At the same time, the study noted, India has initiated major steps to address pollution sources like the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, accelerated Bharat Stage VI clean vehicle standards and the new National Clean Air Programme.
These and future initiatives have the potential, if fully implemented as part of a sustained commitment to air quality, to result in significant health benefits in coming years," Health Effects Institute Vice President Robert O'Keefe said in a statement to IANS.
The Health Effects Institute is an independent, non-profit research institute funded jointly by the US Environmental Protection Agency, industry, foundations and development banks.
Worldwide, air pollution is responsible for more deaths than many better-known risk factors such as malnutrition, alcohol use and physical inactivity, according to the annual report.
In India, air pollution is the third highest cause of death among all health risks, ranking just above smoking. Every year, more people globally die from air pollution related diseases than from road traffic injuries or malaria.
Overall, long-term exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to nearly five million deaths from stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease in 2017.
Out of these, three million deaths are directly attributed to PM2.5, half of which are generated from India and China together. South Asia — Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan — is the most polluted region, with over 1.5 million air-pollution related deaths.
The report found China and India together were responsible for over half of the total global attributable deaths, with each country facing over 1.2 million deaths from air pollution in 2017.
China has made initial progress, beginning to achieve air pollution declines.
For the first time, 2019's report includes worldwide estimates of the effect of air pollution on how long people live, or life expectancy.
Worldwide, air pollution reduced life expectancy by an average 20 months in 2017, a global impact rivalling that of smoking; this means a child born today will die 20 months sooner, on average, than would be expected without air pollution.
The report also highlighted that nearly half of the world's population — a total of 3.6 billion people — were exposed to household air pollution in 2017.
Globally, there has been progress: the proportion of people cooking with solid fuels has declined as economies develop.
But in India, 60 per cent of the population still uses solid fuels; in Bangladesh that number rises to 79 per cent, underscoring the importance of achieving success in government initiatives to address the problem.
And household air pollution can be a major source of impact in outdoor air: with indoor pollution emitted to the outdoor air being the largest cause of health impacts from among all sources in India, contributing to one in four outdoor air pollution related deaths.
The State of Global Air 2019 report and accompanying interactive website are designed and implemented by the Health Effects Institute in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Texas, Austin.
Rapid phasing out of fossil fuels could prevent three million premature deaths annually worldwide
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) said the most significant contribution would be the rapid phasing out of fossil fuels, which is currently being discussed mainly to abate climate change.
The researchers used a global atmospheric chemistry and climate model, linked to the latest estimates of health effects in order to study the combined impact of decarbonisation on public health, precipitation and the climate.
The researchers calculated that fossil fuel generated emissions are responsible for about 65 per cent of premature deaths from human-made air pollutants worldwide.
Phasing out the use of fossil fuels would prevent more than three million premature deaths annually worldwide, researchers said.
"If all sources of air pollution from human activities could be eliminated, that number would further rise to more than five million per year," added Professor Andy Haines from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who is also a co-author of the study.
Reduced air pollution would not only have a positive effect on human health but would also influence the climate.