Bad air, water kills: At 2.5 mn, India tops list for pollution-linked deaths

Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths, 16 per cent of all deaths worldwide, in 2015. Photo: Reuters
India recorded the most number of premature deaths because of pollution in 2015 at 2.51 million lives lost, followed by China at 1.8 million deaths, a recent study has revealed. The findings coincide with the festival of Diwali, which has been synonymous with smoke-choked air due to the rampant bursting of firecrackers across the country. 

Citing The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, a two-year initiative seeking to highlight the issue, Reuters reported that India saw the greatest number of pollution-related early deaths in 2015. "People in poorer countries - like construction workers in New Delhi - are more exposed to air pollution and less able to protect themselves from exposure, as they walk, bike or ride the bus to workplaces that may also be polluted," Karti Sandilya, one of the authors of the commission's report, told the news agency.   

According to The Lancet's study, diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths, 16 per cent of all deaths worldwide, in 2015. This number was three times more than deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence.

Global estimated deaths by major risk factor and cause, 2015. Using data from the GBD Study, 2016. Photo:


Further, citing the Health Effects Institute, the study said that among the world’s 10 most populous countries in 2015, the largest increases in numbers of pollution-related deaths were seen in India and Bangladesh. 

Pollution caused nine million deaths in 2015. Photo:


In fact, according to the study, in 2015, the greatest numbers of deaths due to pollution occurred in southeast Asia (including India) with 3.2 million lives lost and the western Pacific (including China) with 2.2 million deaths.

Air pollution, which has been a cause for alarm especially in India, accounted for the lion's share of the 9 million deaths and was linked to 6.5 million deaths in 2015, followed by water pollution (1.8 million), and workplace-related pollution (0.8 million), the study found.  

In India too, according to the study, air pollution was the major culprit. Of the total pollution-linked early deaths in India, 1.81 million were caused by air pollution, 0.64 million due to water pollution, 0.17 million due to occupational exposure, and 95,000 deaths were linked to lead pollution, the study said.

Numbers portend grim future for Indians

In 2016, India overtook China in terms of the number of deaths due to ambient (outdoor) air pollution, with the country witnessing 50 deaths more than China reported per day in 2015, an agency report citing the Global Burden of Disease project said. (Read more here)

According to the November 2016 news report, data showed that in 2015, India witnessed 3,280 premature deaths (fatalities due to Ozone concentration and particulate matter concentration) per day, whereas China had recorded 3,230.

In 2010, the number of premature deaths in India was at 2,863, whereas in China it was at 3,190. Similarly, in 2005 India was at 2,654 and China at 3,332.

While premature deaths have increased by 23 per cent in India over the last decade, China has reversed the trend and recorded a decline of three per cent.

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project was compiled by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.

According to the study, the rate of premature deaths in India has been increasing at an alarming rate, and from 2,140 deaths per day in 1990, it has reached to 3,280 in 2015.

This is a nearly 53 per cent increase in premature deaths in the past 25 years, a much sharper increase than in China, which has seen a 16 per cent increase over the corresponding period as it managed to reverse the trend 2005 onwards.

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