Air pollution caused 12,000 deaths, ₹12,000 crore loss in Bengaluru: Report
Greenpeace report says 120,000 lives lost due to pollution in six cities last year, shows Bengaluru has 9.4 million vehicles in an area of just around 820 sq km
At least 12,000 people have died in Bengaluru as a result of air pollution and related problems and caused economic damages to the tune of Rs12,365 crore in 2020, according to the Greenpeace Southeast Asia Analysis of IQAir data.
The report by Greenpeace, a global climate activist group, on Thursday titled 'Greenpeace: Cost to Economy Due to Air Pollution Analysis 2021’ said around 1.2 lakh lives were lost due to air pollution in six Indian cities and that the economic losses on account of bad air amounted to over ₹2 lakh crore.
It wasn’t clear how Greenpeace arrived at these numbers or attributed specific deaths to air pollution because these numbers are not tracked by the Union or state governments.
Still, beyond the numbers, the report highlights the poor state or the air in major cities in the country, and the consequences.
According to the study, there were 54,000 air pollution-related deaths in Delhi, 25,000 in Mumbai, 12,000 in Bengaluru, 11,000 each in Hyderabad and Chennai and around 6,700 in Lucknow.
“To show the impact of air pollution-related deaths on the economy, the approach used by Greenpeace is called “willingness-to-pay”, a lost life year or a year lived with a disability is converted to money by the amount that people are willing to pay in order to avoid this negative outcome,” according to the report.
But the report does not specify who incurred these costs, experts point out.
“When we choose fossil fuel over clean energy, our health is put at stake. Polluted air increases the likelihood of deaths due to cancer and stroke, a spike in asthma attacks and worsens the severity of Covid-19 symptoms,” Avinash Chanchal, Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace India said in a statement.
One of the causes of poor air is construction; another is vehicular pollution.
Bengaluru has 9.4 million vehicles in an area of just around 820 square kilometres.
“Air quality had improved last year due to the lockdown and our own measures but increased vehicular population, the metro (rail) and other construction, and industrial activity have impacted overall figures,” said a Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) official who asked not to be named.
“Though PM10 and PM2.5 pollutants have gone up, other gaseous pollutants are under control,” the official added.
PM 2.5 and 10 refer to particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 and 10 microns respectively.
According to KSPCB, Bengaluru’s Air Quality Index (AQI) has fell from 107.1 in 2014-15 to 88.1 in 2018-19. a reading under 100 is considered satisfactory.
The flaws of measuring air quality is pointed out by a former KSPCB official itself.
When Metro construction was ongoing near Victoria Hospital near the busy KR Market of Bengaluru, the KSPCB monitors indicated this rise. But when construction was completed in this location, they came to the conclusion that pollution levels had gone down even though there was no effort to monitor hundreds of other areas where metro construction was being carried out in full swing.
Experts also point to the “law of averages” as air quality tends to worsen sharply during peak hours and then marginally reduce through other times. Since AQI is calculated over 24 hours, the severity of the problem is diluted.
KSPCB’s 41-point action plan includes measures such as pushing for the use of LPG and bio-fuels, promoting battery operated vehicles, and effective disposal of construction debris. It claims these have helped.
While the Covid-19 induced lockdown brought some reprieve to the environment, lifting restrictions has ended that.
The Work From Home policy adopted by technology companies in Bengaluru has brought down traffic and usage of air conditioning and other appliances in offices to some extent, but dependence on private transport has not helped the situation.
Experts also point out that there are only around 20 monitoring stations (both manual and real-time) to capture pollution data in a city that expands to over 820 square km.
“In areas such as Whitefield, where most of the pollutants are, due to construction and a concentration of vehicles, the situation has not returned to pre-Covid levels but in other places such as Indiranagar and Koramangala, (the rise in) traffic has brought it (pollution) to almost the same levels,” Madhusudhan Anand. B, CTO & Co-Founder or Ambee, a Bengaluru-based startup that works to find solutions for air pollution said.
“In areas that lead to highways outside the city, pollution levels are back at pre-Covid levels,” Anand added.