Casting a long shadow

In India, the people and the economy are choking on polluted air

Published 3 years ago on Jan 01, 2021 1 minute Read

Held hostage by a pandemic, while people across the world are learning to live with a mask, for residents of New Delhi, it is a tale as old as time. Every year, during the winter, they find themselves choking on toxic air and breathing through N95s. With the Air Quality Index hitting a new high every day, the situation is life threatening.

There is some truth in that last statement. In 2019, according to a report by Lancet Planetary Health, air pollution in India caused 1.67 million deaths, accounting for 17.8% of total deaths in the country. And, lost output from these deaths accounted for economic losses of $36.8 billion, which is 1.36% of the country’s gross domestic product, added the report.

Of this, Delhi had the highest per-capita economic loss at $62, followed by Haryana at $53.8. Meanwhile, economic loss as a percentage of state GDP was highest in Uttar Pradesh (2.15%), followed by Bihar (1.95%) and Madhya Pradesh (1.70%). Digging further, the interdisciplinary journal also found that losses from premature deaths due to ambient particulate matter pollution ranged from $9.5 million in the state of Arunachal Pradesh to $3.19 billion in Uttar Pradesh.

Much of the ambient particulate matter comes from household pollution, countering which should be India’s topmost priority. The Ujjwala Yojana scheme aimed at providing LPG cylinder to low-income households might be a step in the right direction, but the report mentions, “additional efforts are required to achieve consistent usage of liquefied petroleum gas for cooking.” If these concerns are not addressed soon, the high burden of death and disease due to air pollution could impinge on India’s aspiration to be a $5 trillion economy by 2024, interprets the report.

$5 trillion or not, one thing is for sure — the masks are not going out of style anytime soon, be it for protection against a deadly virus or shielding oneself from toxic air.