The State of Global Air (SOGA) Report 2020 states that India recorded the highest annual average PM 2.5 concentration exposure in the world in 2019. Air pollution is now the largest risk factor for deaths among all health risks in India, and a high-risk factor is for infants.

According to the report, air pollution in India has contributed to 16.67 lakh deaths in the year 2019. In contrast, COVID-19 accounted for 1.17 lakh deaths in the country.

The long-term exposure to outdoors and household air pollution leads to chronic lung diseases, neonatal diseases, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes and lung cancers. The 2019 statistics shows about 60% of deaths were caused by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), 43% due to lower respiratory infection deaths, 35% due to ischemic stroke and 32% due to lung cancer and ischemic heart disease.

Countries with modest increase in PM2.5 concentration

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Although GOI claims that annual air pollution levels in the country are coming down, however, the SOGA report paints a different picture altogether. According to the report, India has been recording an increase in PM 2.5 pollution since 2010. Out of the 20 most populous countries India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Japan are among those that have recorded a modest increase in air pollution levels. In contrast, 14 other countries recorded a gradual improvement.

The PM 2.5 concentration exposure in air has emerged as one of the biggest risk factors among infants globally and in India. Almost 21% or 1,16,000 neonatal deaths in the country were due to household air pollution in 2019. Since, higher risk factor is for infants, particulate air pollution exposure during pregnancy is closely linked to low birth weight and pre-term birth. It is essential to address the impacts of air pollution on adverse pregnancy outcomes and new-borns health for low and middle-income countries because it allows the design of strategic interventions that can be directed at these vulnerable groups.

The State of Global Air Report 2020

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Sagnik Dey, associate professor, IIT Delhi stated that, India must show urgency and recognise the air pollution as a regional-scale problem given the high exposure and shocking health burden of air pollution. The various National Clean Air Programmes should be extended beyond the urban hubs with an air-shed approach looking after the local and regional mitigation measures to achieve clean air.

According to Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, Delhi’s air has improved significantly since 2016 while the Central Pollution Control Board’s reports suggest that air pollution in India is towards a decline.

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