Ozone pollution in India kills crops that can feed 94 million in poverty: study

  • Vanita Srivastava, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 05, 2014 20:45 IST

In one year, India’s ozone pollution damaged millions of tons of the country’s major crops, causing losses of more than a billion dollars and destroying enough food to feed tens of millions of people living below the poverty line, says a new international study.

?The study was done this year jointly by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, US and the National Center of Atmospheric Research, US.

The research looked at the agricultural effects in 2005 of high concentrations of ground-level ozone, a plant-damaging pollutant formed by emissions from vehicles, cooking stoves and other sources.

According to the new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, surface ozone pollution damaged 6 million metric tons of India’s wheat, rice, soybean and cotton crops in 2005.

Dr Sachin Ghude, an atmospheric scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune and lead author of the study told HT: “ Plants start to exhibit damage when they are exposed to ozone levels that reach 40 parts per billion or above, according to previous research. We ran chemistry version of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model to calculated ozone levels during crop growing seasons that were more than 40 to 50 parts per billion over most of the country. We ran the model with different emissions estimates to come up with an average amount of each crop that was lost due to ozone pollution.”

India’s ozone problems , Dr Ghude said will likely get worse with climate change. “Research has shown that warmer temperatures tend to produce higher levels of ozone. Therefore, crop loss will most likely get worse in future.”

India could feed 94 million people with the lost wheat and rice crops, about a third of the country’s poor, said Dr Ghude. There are about 270 million Indians that live in poverty, according to the study.

Wheat – one of the country’s major food sources – saw the largest loss followed by rice, cotton and soyabean.

The (amount of lost wheat and rice) are what surprised me,” said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California San Diego and a co-author of the new study.

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