Latest finding listing air pollution as one of top 10 killers in the world shocking, says CSE

Latest Global Burden of Disease count ranks air pollution as a major killer. Deaths caused by outdoor air pollution has increased three-fold in 10 years

65 per cent of the air pollution deaths occur in Asia and close to quarter of this in India

CSE expresses shock and dismay at the findings

This is dangerous trend at a time when most of economic growth and motorization are yet to happen in India

New Delhi, December 14, 2012: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has expressed deep shock at the findings of the new Global Burden of Disease (GBD) count, a global initiative involving the World Health Organisation, says air pollution has become one of the top 10 killers in the world.

The GBD tracks deaths and illnesses from all causes across the world. According to it, in South Asia, air pollution is ranked as the sixth most dangerous killer. It is now three places behind indoor air pollution, which is the second highest killer in this region.

Says Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director-research and advocacy and head of its air pollution unit: “This GBD count on air pollution and its health risks must trigger urgent, aggressive and most stringent action in India to curb air pollution to protect public health. India cannot afford to enhance health risk at a time when much of its economic growth and motorization are yet to happen.”

The latest GBD results have been produced by a rigorous scientific process involving over 450 global experts and partner institutions including the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the World Health Organization, the University of Queensland, Australia, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and the Health Effects Institute.

The alarming facts about killer breath

  • Shocking increase in global death toll due to outdoor air pollution:  According to the latest tally, air pollution causes 3.2 million deaths worldwide. This has increased from 800,000, last estimated by GBD in the year 2000 – a whopping 300 per cent increase. In the year 2000, GBD assessments had reported a much smaller air pollution-related burden of disease. The new estimates of particulate air pollution are based on ground-level measurements, satellite remote sensing and global chemical transport models to capture population exposure.

  • Amongst the top 10 killers: In South Asia, air pollution has been ranked just below blood pressure, tobacco smoking, indoor air pollution, poor intake of fruits and diabetes. This is scary as outdoor air pollution is a leveler that makes everyone – rich and the poor -- vulnerable.

  • Two-thirds of the death burden from outdoor air pollution occurs in developing Asia including India: The new GBD estimates over 2.1 million premature deaths and 52 million years of healthy life lost in 2010 due to fine particle air pollution in Asia, which is two-thirds of the burden worldwide. Killer outdoor air contributes to 1.2 million deaths in East Asia which is in throes of high level of economic growth and motorization and 712,000 deaths in South Asia (including India) which is at the take-off stage. This is much higher than the combined toll of 400,000 in EU 27, Eastern Europe, and Russia.

Says Roychowdhury: “Days of doubts and complacency are over. There is hard enough evidence now to act urgently to reduce the public health risks to all, particularly the children, elderly, and poor. No one can escape toxic air. India will have to take aggressive action to reverse the trend of short term respiratory and cardiac effects as well as the long term cancer and other metabolic and cellular effects. Remember – toxic effects like cancer surface after a long latency period. Therefore, exposure to air pollution will have to be reduced today to reduce the burden of dieses.”

India cannot afford to ignore these numbers anymore

  • Make National Ambient Air Quality Standards legally binding in all regions: The national air quality planning and city action plans need a roadmap for each source of pollution and aggressive measures. Impose penalty on cities if air quality standards are violated.

  • Need stringent vehicle technology and fuel quality roadmap and in-use vehicle management to cut health impact of motorization.

  • Control and cut explosive increase in vehicle numbers by scaling up public transport, non-motorised transport and compact city planning,  

  • Strengthen implementation plans for critically polluted areas that have been notified

  • Account for health cost in decision making: Valuation of acute and chronic illnesses must be linked to decision on air pollution control measures.

  • Need public information system on daily air quality with health advisories and implement smog alert and pollution emergencies measures

For more on this, please contact Souparno Banerjee at / 9910864339.