2.5 Million Pollution Caused Deaths In India; Where And How Do They Happen


New Delhi: In a study commissioned by the Lancet, it has been found that nearly 9 million people died of premature deaths caused due to pollution. The vast majority of them were in developing countries such as India and China.

India however led the pack in the number of deaths beating even China in this metric with a whopping 2.5 million deaths.  Furthermore, 92% of the deaths occur in lower income families, reinforcing what we already know that the poor are most susceptible to pollution related diseases and deaths.

Pollution is a cause of lower economic growth. Pollution-related diseases cause productivity losses that reduce gross domestic product (GDP) in low-income to middle-income countries by up to 2% per year.

Let us have a brief look at the type of pollution that kill people. The different types of pollution are broadly classified into air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, heavy metal/chemical pollution, and occupational pollution.

Air Pollution

There are two major types of air pollution, household air pollution and ambient air pollution. Both of these are mostly found in India. They produce two major types of particulate matter, fine particulates and ozone.

The number of deaths attributable to PM 2·5 air pollution is estimated to have risen from 3·5 million in 1990 to 4·2 million in 2015, a 20% increase. 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, as reported by the Health Effects Institute.

Under a business as usual scenario, in the coming years in 2050, this will rise a further 50% to 6.6 million deaths a year, just from air pollution alone in these two countries.

Emerging evidence suggests that additional causal associations may exist between PM2·5 pollution and several highly prevalent non-communicable diseases. These include diabetes, decreased cognitive function, attention-deficit or hyperactivity disorder and autism in children, and neurodegenerative disease, including dementia, in adults.

Water Pollution

There are two types of water pollution, unsafe water source and inadequate sanitation. Many areas in low-income and middle-income countries lack acceptable water supplies and many people, particularly in rural areas in poor countries, have inadequate sanitation.

In 2015, 1·8 million deaths were attributable to water pollution, including unsafe water sources, unsafe sanitation, and inadequate handwashing. Of this total, 0·8 million deaths were estimated to be caused by unsafe sanitation and 1·3 million to unsafe water sources.

Prevention technologies and systems exist, but poverty, lack of knowledge, and other priorities constrain the adoption of improvements.

The principal diseases linked to water pollution are diarrhoeal diseases (70% of deaths attributed to water pollution), typhoid fever (8%), paratyphoid fever (20%), and lower respiratory tract infections (2%).

Furthermore, pollution of rivers, lakes, and the oceans from agriculture, manufacturing, and the extractive industries can have catastrophic effects on freshwater and marine ecosystems that result in the collapse of fisheries and the diminished livelihood of indigenous populations and others who rely upon fish as a major food source.

Soil/Metal Pollution

Polluted sites are most commonly contaminated by informal, small-scale, unregulated local industry or artisanal activity. Sites can be contaminated by current industrial and mining activity, or they can be abandoned, legacy sites that were contaminated by previous  operations.

The contaminants at polluted sites that pose the greatest threats to health are substances such as metals, pesticides, and radionuclides. The metals most commonly encountered at polluted sites include mercury, lead, chromium, and cadmium.

It is estimated that 16.7 million people worldwide are exposed to contaminated soil and metals and are thus at a very high chance of falling sick due to that. The vast majority of such people are in Africa where illegal mining and are rampant.

The Economic Costs Of Pollution And Pollution-Related Disease

Premature death and disease due to pollution impose great costs on national budgets and health-care spending, especially in rapidly industrialising low-income and middle-income countries.

Diseases caused and exacerbated by pollution result in medical expenditures and in pain and suffering. Pollution-related disease can reduce labour force participation, labour market productivity, and economic output.

In children, pollution-related disease can cause failure in school and perpetuate intergenerational poverty. Early life exposures to neurotoxic pollutants such as lead and mercury can impair cognition, diminish the ability to concentrate, and disrupt behaviour, thus reducing lifetime earnings.

The costs of disease and premature death caused by pollution, especially the more modern forms of pollution, are rising rapidly.

The costs of pollution-related disease include direct medical expenditures, including hospital, physician, and medication costs, long-term rehabilitation or home care, and non-clinical services such as management, support services, and health insurance costs;

There are also indirect health related expenditures, such as time lost from school or work, costs of special education, and the cost of investments in the health system.

Diminished economic productivity in persons whose brains, lungs, and other organ systems are permanently damaged by pollution; and losses in output resulting from premature death.

Pollution-related disease is responsible also for intangible costs, such as those of poor health in people made ill by pollution, disruption of family stability when a person of working age becomes disabled or dies prematurely as a result of pollution, and the loss in years of life to the person themselves.

Solutions To Pollution Are Related To Environmental Justice


Pollution and pollution-related disease are often reflections of environmental injustice. Environmental justice as is when all people and communities are entitled to equal protection of environmental and public health laws and regulations.

To advance environmental justice and reduce the inequitable exposure of the poor and the marginalised, countries must develop legal mechanisms that provide recourse for environmental injustice.

India’s green court, for example, provides citizens with access to an independent judiciary that has the power to redress pollution injustices. Such a system, when connected with openly shared data on toxic exposures and health can serve as a powerful mechanism to address  environmental injustice.

With leadership, resources, and a clearly articulated, data-driven strategy, much of the world’s pollution can be controlled and pollution-related disease prevented. 


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