Air pollution emerging as biggest cause of deaths in India

Chetan Chauhan

New Delhi, Feb. 13 -- India is virtually sitting on air pollution time-bomb with deaths related to this environmental hazard increasing six-fold in the last decade and it emerging as one of the biggest causes for deaths in 2010, country specific data on Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) report released on Wednesday said.

The Washington based Health Effects Institute's detailed analysis for India showed that a million people each died because of indoor air pollution and direct and indirect tobacco smoking and another 620,000 people because of outdoor air pollution in 2010, a six time increase since 2000.

"The situation is grave," described Aaron Cohen, who headed the expert group on air pollution for the study, adding that air pollution caused 20 % of lung cancer and 6% of high blood pressure deaths in India.

Indoor pollution, which normally misses attention of policy-makers, was the biggest cause of disease burden by causing 27 of the air pollution load.

The average household particulate matter pollution in India was 350 micro gram per cubic meter of air, more than ten times the indoor air quality guideline of the United States Environment Protection Agency, indicating that homes in rural India are worse that outdoors.

India does not have any standard for indoor air pollution like many western countries.

"Around one million lives, especially of women, can be saved every year in India, if all solid fuels used for cooking in rural India is replaced with LPG," said Kalpana Balakrishnan, director of health ministry's Centre for Advanced Research on Environmental Health and a contributor to the GBD study.

Equally distressing is the rising particulate matter outdoor air pollution, which has been ranked as fifth biggest cause of deaths in India, lower than China and higher than other developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa.

A ground proofing by Delhi based NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) released at a discussion on killer pollution said that air quality of only two Kerala cities - Malapuram and Pathanamthitta - of the 180 cities monitored by the Central Pollution Control Board in India was considered worth breathing.

CSE's Anumita Roy Choudhury said that since 2005 particulate matter - a cause for most heart and lung diseases - has increased rapidly across Indian cities.

"Around 78% of Indian cities monitored have air quality higher than the national standard as compared to 75% in 2005," she said.

Summing up the intensity of the debate, Balakrishnan said "one can buy water but not air".

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.