A new study has revealed that that air pollution in Delhi is responsible for approximately 20,000 to 30,000 annual deaths in the city. This means the capital city loses 80 lives every day to pollution from PM2.5.
The study also mentions that the deaths are mostly from heart attacks and strokes, rather than from respiratory disorders. Leading researchers of the study include Joshua Apte from University of Texas, Julian Marshall from University of Minnesota, Michael Brauer from University of British Columbia and Dr Aaron Cohen from Health Effects Institute.
Previously, the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had issued a public interest advertisement in The Times of India, saying “51,779 dead by Breathing”. This was also reported in some other media publications across the country under the headline “Air pollution in Delhi has claimed more victims than the terrorists’ guns in India”.
With the recent study concluding that Delhi loses 80 deaths per day to air pollution or three deaths per hour, the figure is now three times higher than CSE’s calculation for 1997. If no action is taken, these deaths could rise by 20 per cent to 30 per cent.
Outdoor air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India. Till now, various studies have highlighted the issue. Global Burden of Disease study in 2013 had estimated approximately 627,000 premature deaths in India for 2010 due to PM 2.5 with ischemic heart diseases claiming more lives than respiratory diseases. It also estimated that air pollution from PM2.5 in the world claims as many as 3.2 million deaths per annum. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) had named Delhi as the most polluted city in the world, with 13 out of 20 most polluted cities in the world hailing from India. PM2.5 was again cited as the biggest source of air pollution in Delhi.
Not a mission impossible
The recent study has mentioned that 45 per cent of Delhi’s premature deaths could be controlled if the city took preventive measures to control its problem of air pollution and meet its national ambient air quality standards. The safe standard for PM2.5 in India is 60 microgram per cubic metre (24-hour standard), four times higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard (25 microgram/cubic metre). If Delhi could meet the standard laid out by the WHO, then 85 per cent of premature deaths could be avoided. The study has also used a global model to estimate the number of deaths that can be avoided in future by controlling this air pollution. Across India, four lakh premature deaths per year could be avoided if we managed to meet the WHO standards. Almost 1.4 million premature deaths can be prevented in India.
In December 2015, CSE had classified the air in Delhi as “severely polluted” for over 65 per cent days. This would mean extreme health disorders for a healthy human being also. The release of national air quality index in India has not been very useful since the local air quality monitoring stations fail to generate data and there is little being done to monitor the situation. Due to insufficient air quality data, air quality index cannot be calculated in a number of cities for most of the days.
As per the Air Quality Index bulletin issued by the government, the air quality as of June 17, 2015 is “poor” in Delhi and Faridabad and “very poor” in Lucknow. However, there is no news or health advisory issued by the government on this. Moreover, in cities without an air quality index, there is even lesser awareness on the issue.