At 2.51 million, India ranks number one in pollution deaths

air pollution
Nearly 25% of all deaths in India in 2015 were caused by pollution.

Pollution has been responsible for most non-communicable disease deaths — heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

With 2.51 million premature deaths in 2015, India is ranked number one in pollution-related deaths. India accounted for about 28 per cent of an estimated 9 million pollution-linked deaths worldwide in 2015. China recorded the second highest number of pollution deaths (1.8 million).

At 6.5 million premature deaths globally, air pollution was the leading cause of deaths in 2015. Among the world’s 10 most populous countries in 2015, the largest increases in numbers of pollution-related deaths were seen in India and Bangladesh. But the absolute number air pollution deaths in Bangladesh was only 0.2 million. With 1.58 million, China had the second highest number of air pollution deaths after India; but the number of water pollution deaths in China was only about 34,000 compared with 0.64 million in the case of India. The results were published in The Lancet.

Nearly 25% of all deaths in India in 2015 were caused by pollution; Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and Kenya too reported one in four deaths caused by pollution. Most pollution deaths in India were caused by air pollution (1.81 million) followed by water (0.64 million).

In the case of air pollution, the number of deaths in India from ambient air pollution was 1.09 million while deaths from household air pollution from solid fuels were 0.97 million. In the case of water pollution, 0.5 million deaths were caused by unsafe water source while unsafe sanitation caused 0.32 million deaths.

Several cities in India and China record average annual concentrations of particulate matter PM2·5 pollution of greater than 100 μg/m³, and more than 50% of global deaths due to ambient air pollution in 2015 occurred in India and China.

“The current figure of nine million is almost certainly an underestimate, probably by several million,” Prof Philip Landrigan, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US, who co-led the commission told The Guardian. This is because scientists are still discovering links between pollution and ill health, such as the connection between air pollution and dementia, diabetes and kidney disease.

Deaths from air pollution were a result of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pollution has been responsible for most non-communicable disease deaths. “In 2015, all forms of pollution combined were responsible for 21% of all deaths from cardiovascular disease, 26% of deaths due to ischaemic heart disease, 23% of deaths due to stroke, 51% of deaths due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and 43% of deaths due to lung cancer,” says the report. “Only dietary risk factors (all combined) (12·1 million) and hypertension
(10·7 million) caused more deaths than pollution.”

“Pollution is responsible for more deaths than a high-sodium diet (4·1 million), obesity (4·0 million), alcohol (2·3 million), road accidents (1·4 million), or child and maternal malnutrition (1·4 million). Pollution was also responsible for three times as many deaths as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined,” says the report.

The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health is a two-year project that has involved more than 40 international health and environmental authors led by Philip Landrigan, an environmental scientist.

Published in The Hindu on October 20, 2017

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