Death is in the air

Air quality in Indian cities has never been worse. More and more people are dying in urban India due to high levels of pollutants in the air. The Centre for Science and Environment fed a model prepared by the World Bank with the latest data on pollution to evaluate the health implications of poor air quality. The results are shocking, as is the lack of application on the part of government authorities. An assessment

 
Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

Death is in the air

-- the number of people dying in urban India due to deteriorating air quality is rising every year and very little is being done to deal with pollution in Indian cities. A stupendous 51,779 people are estimated to have died prematurely in 36 Indian cities due to air pollution in 1995 as against 40,351 in 1991-92 -- a rise of 28 per cent over the three-four year period. Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai, Kanpur and Ahmedabad account for 10,647, 9,859, 7023, 3,639, 3,006 premature deaths respectively (see Table: The body count). This accounts for 66 per cent of total premature deaths in India. The number of air pollution-related ailments requiring medical treatment and hospital admissions have sky-rocketed to 25 million cases, indicating an increasingly ruined state of health in Indian cities. The estimate was 19 million in 1991-92.

In Calcutta and Delhi, cases of hospital admissions and sicknesses requiring medical treatment due to air pollution have almost doubled in a span of three years, crossing the five million mark in 1995 (see Table: Quick, but ill). Disturbing trends are also emerging in Kanpur, Chennai and Ahmedabad. The main culprit is suspended particulate matter (spm), dust and ash particles sometimes laden with toxic chemicals. The primary sources of spm are power plants, industrial units and auto emissions. spm levels in the above-mentioned cities are three to five times higher than the acceptable limit set by the World Health Organization (who). Dust particles less than 10 micron in diameter -- known as pm 10 and pm 2.5 -- can penetrate lungs easily and are detrimental to human health. pm 10 has been associated with both premature mortality (death from respiratory illness and cardiovascular diseases) and increased morbidity (high incidence of chronic obstructive lung diseases, especially bronchitis and upper and lower respiratory tract infections).

Evaluation of these premature deaths suggests that economic and health costs due to growing levels of spm range between Rs 1,747 and 7,252 crore. Similarly, estimates of the monetary losses due to sicknesses caused by high levels of spm is between Rs 107 to 213 crore.

In a 1995 report titled Valuing Environmental Costs In India: The Economy Wide Impact Of Environmental Degradation , World Bank (wb) staffers Carter Brandon and Kirsten Homman formulated a model to establish the relationship between air pollution and human mortality and morbidity. The model was subsequently used to assess environmental and health conditions in India. Using air quality data for 1991-92 provided by the Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb) from 290 monitoring stations in 92 Indian cities and towns, they found that air pollution results in 40,351 premature deaths in India. Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi accounted for 5,726 (14 per cent), 4,477 (11 per cent), and 7,491 (19 per cent) respectively. Substituting the cpcb air quality data for 1991-92 by the corresponding 1995 data, the figure for number of premature deaths increased to 51,779, an alarming increase by all standards.

As a follow-up to our research, Down To Earth (DTE) reporters visited selected cities such as Delhi, Calcutta, Pune, Bhopal and Agra. While Delhi and Calcutta were chosen to represent two major cities where air pollution due to high levels of spm has increased from 1991-92 to 1995 and possibly continues to increase, the other three cities (Pune, Bhopal and Agra) were visited to uncover the reasons why pollution could have decreased during the same period as reported by the cpcb . These visits also provided an account of the present status of air pollution and gave us some indication of the emerging trends in pollution-related health problems. And the picture that emerges is not pleasant at all.

The body count
Latest estimates of annual
premature deaths in 36 Indian cities due to ambient SPM
Quick, but ill
Latest estimates of illnesses in 36 Indian cities due to ambient SPM
City 1991-92 1995 Increase/
decrease
City 1991-92 1995
Calcutta
Delhi
Mumbai
Kanpur
Ahmedabad
Hyderabad
Indore
Agra
Surat
Chennai
Patna
Ludhiana
Jaipur
Varanasi
Dhanbad
Bhilai
Bhopal
Nagpur
Faridabad
Pune
Jabalpur
Jalandhar
Dehradoon
Kota
Bangalore
Jamshedpur
Mysore
Kochi
Satna
Kottayam
Kozhikode
Shimla
Haldia
Guwahati
Shillong
Tuticorin
Total
5,726
7,491
4,477
1,894
2,979
768
1,341
1,569
1,488
863
725
1,117
1,145
1,851
995
464
663
506
331
991
683
55
994
209
254
118
72
146
108
65
211
32
22
0
0
0
40,351
10,647
9,859
7,023
3,639
3,006
1,961
1,527
1,449
1,369
1,291
1,182
1,099
892
734
689
652
623
607
518
454
429
404
398
369
254
158
158
146
128
39
39
25
11
0
0
0
51,779
+
+
+
+
+
+
+


+
+




+

+
+


+

+
*
+
+
*
+




*
*
*
+
Calcutta
Delhi
Mumbai
Kanpur
Ahmedabad
Hyderabad
Indore
Agra
Surat
Chennai
Patna
Ludhiana
Jaipur
Varanasi
Dhanbad
Bhilai
Bhopal
Nagpur
Faridabad
Pune
Jabalpur
Jalandhar
Dehradoon
Kota
Bangalore
Jamshedpur
Mysore
Kochi
Satna
Kottayam
Kozhikode
Shimla
Haldia
Guwahati
Shillong
Tuticorin
Total
29,29,035
39,48,923
25,53,537
8,03,729
11,77,925
4,10,818
5,62,227
6,65,772
5,88,295
4,54,694
3,19,244
5,71,619
5,17,462
7,85,413
4,38,432
1,94,497
2,77,854
2,88,571
1,77,047
5,65,372
2,86,208
27,939
4,21,665
94,345
1,35,905
51,778
38,791
84,919
45,127
37,420
1,22,245
18,161
11,142
0
0
0
1,90,98,127
54,46,225
51,97,018
40,05,538
15,44,377
11,88,445
10,48,714
6,40,275
6,14,979
5,41,445
6,80,241
5,20,640
5,62,155
4,03,060
3,11,660
3,03,799
2,73,494
2,61,205
3,46,279
2,76,925
2,59,181
1,79,729
2,04,977
1,68,928
1,66,622
1,35,905
69,409
69,409
84,919
53,482
22,369
22,766
14,062
5,659
0
0
0
2,56,45,721
*: Estimated number of premature deaths in 1995 was found to be same as that in 1991-92

 

Monetary losses - I
Resulting from premature deaths due to ambient SPM (in Rs crore)
Monetary losses - II
From sicknesses requiring medical treatment due to ambient SPM (in Rs crore)
City 1991-92 1995 City 1991-92 1995
Calcutta
Delhi
Mumbai
Kanpur
Ahmedabad
Hyderabad
Indore
Agra
Surat
Chennai
Patna
Ludhiana
Jaipur
Varanasi
Dhanbad
Bhilai
Bhopal
Nagpur
Faridabad
Pune
Jabalpur
Jalandhar
Dehradoon
Kota
Bangalore
Jamshedpur
Mysore
Kochi
Satna
Kottayam
Kozhikode
Shimla
Haldia
Guwahati
Shillong
Tuticorin
Total
497.6
651.0
389.0
164.6
258.9
66.7
116.5
136.3
129.3
75.0
63.0
97.1
99.5
160.9
86.5
40.3
57.6
44.0
28.8
86.1
59.4
4.8
86.4
18.2
22.1
10.3
6.3
12.7
9.4
5.6
18.3
2.8
1.9
0
0
0
3506.6
925.2
856.7
610.3
316.3
261.2
170.4
132.7
126.4
119.0
112.2
102.7
95.5
77.5
63.9
59.9
56.7
54.2
52.8
45.0
39.5
37.3
35.1
34.6
32.1
22.1
13.7
13.7
12.7
11.1
3.4
3.4
2.2
1.0
0
0
0
4499.6
Agra
Ahmedabad
Bangalore
Bhilai
Bhopal
Mumbai
Calcutta
Delhi
Dehradoon
Dhanbad
Faridabad
Guwahati
Haldia
Hyderabad
Indore
Jabalpur
Jaipur
Jalandhar
Jamshedpur
Kanpur
Kochi
Kota
Kottayam
Kozhikode
Ludhiana
Chennai
Mysore
Nagpur
Patna
Pune
Satna
Shillong
Shimla
Surat
Tuticorin
Varanasi
Total
4.1
7.3
0.8
1.2
1.7
15.9
18.3
24.6
2.6
2.7
1.1
0
0.1
2.6
3.5
1.8
3.2
0.2
0.3
5.0
0.5
0.6
0.2
0.8
3.6
2.8
0.2
1.8
2.0
3.5
0.3
0
0.1
3.7
0
4.9
122.2
3.8
7.4
0.8
1.7
1.6
25.0
33.9
32.4
1.1
1.9
1.8
0.1
0.03
6.5
4.0
1.1
2.5
1.3
0.4
9.6
0.5
1.1
0.1
0.1
7.2
3.6
0.4
2.2
3.2
1.6
0.6
0.0
0.1
3.4
0
2.0
159.8

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