No air to breathe: India beat China in air pollution deaths last year

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
Nov 17, 2016 12:33 PM IST

More people died of air pollution in India than China last year, a Greenpeace study released on Wednesday said, adding to the worries of millions of Indians facing serious health hazards due to toxic air in major cities including Delhi.

More people died of air pollution in India than China last year, said a Greenpeace study released on Wednesday.

In this photograph taken on November 8, a farmer burns paddy stubble in a field on the outskirts of Jalandhar.(AFP Photo)
In this photograph taken on November 8, a farmer burns paddy stubble in a field on the outskirts of Jalandhar.(AFP Photo)

Using data from the Global Burden of Diseases study, the report said the spike happened because of the lack of adequate measures by the government.

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Outdoor air pollution killed 3,283 people in India in 2015, compared to 3,233 in China.

The study found a direct relation between the exposure to ambient outdoor air pollution (ozone and particulate matter with diameter less than 2.5 micrometers and 10 micrometers) and premature deaths.

“The data shows that China’s strong measures in tackling pollution have resulted in a steady reduction in the particulate levels. With India, however, the trend is downward. The year 2015, especially, has been the worst-ever recorded for premature deaths by exposure to pollutants,” said Sunil Dahiya, Greenpeace’s India campaigner.

Daily pollution deaths in India rose from 2,100 in 1990 to 2,502 in 2000, and then to 2,865 in 2010, before jumping up dramatically over the last five years.

On the other hand, in China, the number of deaths from high air pollution was 2,620 in 1990, which rose to 3,010 in the year 2000, and then to 3,100 in 2010.

Explaining the trend, Dahiya said, “Due to growing consumption of fossil fuels, the pollution level in China was deteriorating. Between 2005 and 2011, the particulate pollution levels in China rose an estimated 20%. The year 2011 was the worst on record for China in terms of ambient air pollution. However, there was a dramatic improvement in China towards 2015, while India’s pollution levels constantly moved upwards.”

He said that the Indian trends show that there has been a lack of consistent efforts to bring down pollution. Analysing the data further, experts said that after 2011, when the National Policy was introduced in China to control the coal-fired power plants and the number of vehicles on road, there has been stagnancy in the number of such deaths.

“China adopted strict emission standards for thermal power plants in 2011, and a coordinated action plan in 2013, which led to the reduction in pollution levels, eventually halting the increase in air pollution deaths,” the analysis read.

Other environment experts also agreed that unless there is a comprehensive plan to tackle pollution, the levels will keep breaking records.

“The problem is that there is no coordination between agencies. The need of the hour is to make a common agency which will monitor the activities of all the stakeholders. Many parts of the country are not even equipped with air quality monitoring systems,” said Dr Padmanabhan Gowda, principal researcher in health and environment policy at IIT-Delhi.

The problem of pollution has topped the charts especially during winters. Last year, World Health Organisation (WHO) also ranked Delhi to be the most polluted city in the world, beating China.

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    Soumya Pillai covers environment and traffic in Delhi. A journalist for three years, she has grown up in and with Delhi, which is often reflected in the stories she does about life in the city. She also enjoys writing on social innovations.

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