New Delhi: The Modi government’s flagship Ujjwala Yojana helped reduce deaths caused by pollution sources associated with extreme poverty — such as indoor air and water pollution — according to a report by The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, which is associated with the famed journal.
However, the report notes that the reductions were offset by increased deaths attributable to industrial or modern forms of pollution, such as ambient air and chemical pollution.
Published in The Lancet Planetary Health Wednesday, the report sought to look into the economic losses resulting from deaths caused by different forms of pollution.
The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health analyses data to reveal pollution’s “severe and underreported contribution to the Global Burden of Disease”. It uncovers the economic costs of pollution to low-income and middle-income countries, and seeks to inform key decisionmakers around the world about the impact and potential solutions.
According to the report, the number of deaths attributed to pollution has remained virtually unchanged since 2015, with over nine million fatalities reported worldwide in 2019.
“The health impacts of pollution remain enormous, and low-and middle-income countries bear the brunt of this burden. Despite its enormous health, social and economic impacts, pollution prevention is largely overlooked in the international development agenda,” Richard Fuller, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
“Attention and funding have only minimally increased since 2015, despite well-documented increases in public concern about pollution and its health effects,” Fuller added.
For the latest review, instead of repeating global calculations, the researchers used the human capital approach to evaluate the cost of modern pollution on a subset of countries’ prospects for economic growth and societal development.
In 2000, the report says, output losses due to traditional pollution were 3.2 per cent of India’s GDP. In 2019, traditional-pollution-related economic losses as a proportion of GDP fell substantially to approximately 1 per cent in India.
According to the researchers, this reduction was a result of efforts made against household air pollution, most notably through the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, which provides LPG connections to Below Poverty Line households.
Even so, the researchers say, India is still estimated to have had the world’s largest number of air-pollution-related deaths in 2019.
Economic losses due to modern forms of pollution increased as a proportion of GDP between 2000 and 2019 in India — and are now conservatively estimated to amount to approximately 1 per cent of GDP, the report says. In 2000, this figure was just over 0.6 per cent of GDP.
A previous report — 2017 Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, which used data from the 2015 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study — found that pollution was responsible for an estimated nine million deaths in 2015, or 16 per cent of all deaths globally that year.
The new report provides updated estimates for the health effects of pollution based on 2019 GBD data — the latest — and methodological updates, as well as an assessment of trends since 2000.
‘Air pollution biggest killer’
Of the nine million pollution-attributable deaths in 2019, air pollution accounted for the greatest number, at 6.67 million worldwide.
Water pollution was responsible for 1.36 million premature deaths, the report says, adding that lead contributed to 900,000 premature deaths, followed by toxic occupational hazards, which led to an estimated 870,000 deaths.
The decline in deaths from household air pollution caused by solid fuels and unsafe water since 2000 is most evident in Africa, the researchers note. This can be explained by improvements in water supply and sanitation, antibiotics and treatments, and cleaner fuels.
However, this decrease in deaths has been offset by a substantial increase in deaths from exposure to industrial pollution — such as ambient air pollution, lead pollution, and other forms of chemical pollution — across all regions over the past 20 years.
This is particularly evident in Southeast Asia, where rising levels of industrial pollution are accompanied by ageing populations and increasing numbers of people exposed.
Ambient air pollution was responsible for 4.5 million deaths in 2019, up from 4.2 million deaths in 2015 and 2.9 million in 2000, the report says. Deaths from hazardous chemical pollutants increased from 0.9 million in 2000, to 1.7 million in 2015, and 1.8 million in 2019.
Overall, deaths from modern pollution have increased by 66 per cent in the past two decades, to 6.3 million deaths in 2019, from an estimated 3.8 million deaths in 2000.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)