Air pollution now biggest health risk in India, says report

State of Global Air

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In News:

  • The State of Global Air, 2020, a report on global exposure to air pollution was recently released by Health Effects Institute (HEI).
  • The report’s findings are based on the most recent Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study published in the international medical journal The Lancet.
  • The report focuses on data from 2019, so does not include the impacts of the lockdown policies around the world this year

About: State of Global Air report

  • The report is a collaboration between the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project.
  • Each year, the State of Global Air reports on pollution levels and trends around the world.
  • It is designed to give citizens, journalists, policy makers, and scientists access to reliable, meaningful information about air pollution exposure and its health effects.
  • Knowledge of these trends is essential to understanding patterns in the burden of disease across countries and regions to reduce pollution in ways that have the greatest potential to benefit health.

State of Global Air, 2020:

  • The differences in air quality among regions have not changed over the last decade. With few exceptions, the low- and middle-income regions remain the dirtiest, and high-income regions remain clean or are getting cleaner.
  • Due to this, millions of people every year have been exposed to an avoidable burden from air pollution–related disease and premature mortality (death).
  • Long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to around 6.7 million deaths globally from stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and neonatal diseases in 2019.
  • China (1.8 million) and India (1.6 million) together accounted for more than half of such deaths.
  • Air pollution is now the fourth highest cause of death among all health risks, ranking just below high Blood Pressure, tobacco use and poor diet.

Impact of air pollution on children:

  • The HEI, has for the first time done a comprehensive analysis of air pollution’s global impact on the new-born.
  • As per the report, air pollution accounts for 20% of new-born deaths worldwide, due to complications of low birth weight and preterm birth and mother’s toxic exposure.
  • Outdoor and household particulate matter pollution contributed to the deaths of nearly 5,00,000 infants globally, in their first month of life.
  • Nearly two-thirds of those deaths were linked to use of solid fuels like charcoal, wood and animal dung for cooking.
PM2.5 exposure:
  • Over the last decade, levels of PM2.5 exposure have remained high or have been increasing particularly in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
  • South Asian countries, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal, featured among the top 10 nations with the highest PM2.5 exposures in 2019. All of these countries experienced increases in outdoor PM2.5 levels between 2010 and 2019.
  • 5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3% the diameter of a human hair.
  • Since they are so small and light, they tend to stay longer in the air than heavier particles. This increases the chances of humans and animals inhaling them into the bodies.

State of Global Air
State of Global Air

Ozone exposure:
  • On average, global exposure to ozone increased from about 47.3 parts per billion (ppb) in 2010 to 49.5 ppb in 2019.
  • Countries in South Asia, which already have some of the highest ozone exposures in the world, have experienced the largest increases in exposure over the past decade.
  • However, some countries in the High-Income, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and East Asia Regions saw modest declines in exposure.
  • Ozone is a major respiratory irritant which is not released directly into the air but is formed in a chemical interaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight.

Covid-19 and air pollution:

  • Although the full links between air pollution and Covid-19 are not yet known, there is clear evidence linking air pollution and increased heart and lung disease.
  • This has led to a growing concern that exposures to high levels of air pollution, during winter months in South Asian countries and East Asia, could increase the effects of Covid-19.

Highlights from India:

  • India faced the highest per capita pollution exposure — or 83.2 μg/cubic metre — in the world, followed by Nepal at 83.1 μg/cubic metre and Niger at 80.1.
  • Long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths in India in 2019.
  • Outdoor and household particulate matter pollution also contributed to the deaths of more than 1,16,000 Indian infants in their first month of life last year.
  • India recorded the highest annual average PM 2.5 concentration exposure in the world last year, followed by Nepal, Niger, Qatar and Nigeria.
  • India is also among the top ten countries with highest ozone exposure in 2019. Among the 20 most populous countries, India recorded the highest increase (17%) in Ozone concentrations in the past ten years.
Improvements in India:
  • The only positive in India is that it has managed to reduce the number of people exposed to household air pollution.
  • India reduced the percentage of its population exposed to household air pollution from from 73% to 61% over the decade. Since 2010, over 50 million fewer people have been exposed to household air pollution.
  • The Pradhan MantriUjjwalaYojana Household LPG programme and other schemes have helped to expand access to clean energy, especially for rural households.
  • More recently, the National Clean Air Programme has led to increased action on major air pollution sources in cities and states around the country.

Way Ahead:

  • The pandemic has strengthened the reasons for accelerating efforts to achieve long lasting reductions in air pollution.
  • However, progress requires actions that must be rooted in an understanding of the sources and reasons of air pollution and other risk factors at regional, national, and local levels.
  • Thus, solutions must be devised to address the economic, educational, and social inequalities in resources necessary to make and sustain progress on air pollution and health.

About: Health Effects Institute

  • The Health Effects Institute (HEI) is an independent, non-profit corporation specializing in research on the health effects of air pollution.
  • Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, HEI was founded in 1980.
  • HEI has funded more than 330 research projects in North America, Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
  • HEI receives half of its core funds from the worldwide motor vehicle industry and half from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Identify the highest priority areas for health effects research.
  • Fund and oversee research activities.
  • Integrate HEI’s research results with those of other institutions into broader evaluations.
  • Communicate its findings to industry, policy makers, and the public.

Also Read: India fares poorly in hunger index

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