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Worsening air quality major cause of premature deaths in India: Study

According recent research, worsening air quality in last two decades has emerged as one of major reasons for high numbers of premature deaths in India. The research was conducted by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi in collaboration with environmental NGO Centre for Environment and Energy Development (CEED).


The study was conducted 11 north Indian cities i.e. seven in Uttar Pradesh (Allahabad, Kanpur, Lucknow, Meerut, Varanasi and Gorakhpur), three in Bihar (Patna, Muzaffarpur and Gaya) and one in Jharkhand (Ranchi). It calculated annual mortality burden through averages of recorded deaths caused due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Acute Lower Respiratory Infection (ALRI), coronary disease, stroke, and lung cancer in these 11 cities. It also used satellite-based high-resolution PM2.5 database to generate particulate matter statistics for past 17 years.

Key Findings of Research

The annual mortality linked to air pollution was in range of 150-300 persons per 1 lakh population. Kanpur recorded highest number of premature deaths per year (4,173) due to chronic exposure to air pollution, followed by Lucknow (4,127), Agra (2,421), Meerut (2,044), Varanasi (1,581), Allahabad (1,443) and Gorakhpur (914).

COPD was largest cause of deaths (at 29.7%) and lung cancer the lowest (0.6%). The largest share in total burden was attributed to ALRI in Agra and Meerut and to COPD in Allahabad, Gaya, Gorakhpur, Kanpur, Lucknow, Patna, Muzaffarpur and Varanasi.

The estimates were not instant deaths, but represented premature (earlier than expected lifetime of Indian population) deaths due to chronic exposure from pollution. This premature mortality burden will be reduced by 14 to 28% annually if these cities achieve of Indian air quality standards.

The mean annual ambient fine particulate matter (PM) concentration was 75-120% higher than Indian annual air quality standard in 10 of 11 cities. The residential (cooking, heating and lighting) sources are largest contributors to annual ambient PM2.5 concentration (73.8%). Moreover, analysis of aerosol composition indicates higher percentage of sulphates, organic carbons and black carbon emitted primarily from anthropogenic sources.


14 of Indian cities figure in World’s 20 most polluted cities list: WHO

According to Global Urban Air Pollution database released by World Health Organisation (WHO), 14 Indian cities have figured in list of world’s 20 most polluted cities in terms of particulate matter PM2.5 levels in 2016. These 14 cities include Delhi, Varanasi, Kanpur, Faridabad, Gaya, Patna, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Patiala and Jodhpur. They were followed by Ali Subah Al-Salem (Kuwait) and few cities in China and Mongolia. In terms of PM10 levels, 13 cities in India figured among the 20 most-polluted cities.


The database measured levels of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) from more than 4,300 cities in 108 countries. It estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into lungs and cardiovascular system. WHO recognises air pollution is critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) as it causes diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia. Since 2016, over 1,000 additional cities are being added to WHO’s database, showing that more countries are measuring and taking action to reduce air pollution than ever before.

Key Facts

Pollution related Deaths: According to WHO database, ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016 across the globe, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies has caused 3.8 million deaths in same period. It shows that 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.

Global Scenario: More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (including India), mainly in Asia and Africa. It is followed by low-and middle-income countries of Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and Americas. More than 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits. While all regions of world are affected, populations in low-income cities are most impacted.

South Asia region: It alone accounts for 1.5 million (40%) deaths by household air pollution and 1.3 million (30%) global deaths due to ambient air pollution. Member-countries in Southeast Asia Region need to aggressively address double burden of household and ambient (outdoor) air pollution.

Lack of clean fuel: Around 3 billion people (more than 40% of the world’s population) still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution.

Since 2016, over 1,000 additional cities have been added to WHO’s database, which shows more countries are measuring and taking action to reduce air pollution than ever before.