February 25, 2015

Indian air pollution greatly endangers population

Eric Hopton for - Your Universe Online

Air pollution is devastating, and a recent study shows that millions of people in India live under a cloud of toxic smoke.

India’s dangerous air

The latest research published in this week’s Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) confirmed that 660 million Indians, over half the country, live in areas with deadly levels of fine particulate matter. People living in the worst conditions lose an average of 3.2 years of life expectancy.

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“The loss of (these) life years is a substantial price to pay for air pollution. It is in India’s power to change this in cost effective ways that allow hundreds of millions of its citizens to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives” said Rohini Pande, a director of Evidence for Policy Design at the Harvard Kennedy School and an author of the study.

The plan for action

The study team came up with three proposals for cost-effective policy changes that might help to curtail Indian air pollution.

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The first proposal is that India should increase its monitoring efforts and take advantage of new technology that allows for real-time monitoring. Increased monitoring would pressure polluters into compliance with regulations.

Secondly, the authors believe that using civil rather than criminal penalties would “instill a ‘polluter pays’ system that would provide polluters with an incentive to reduce pollution.” In some ways India’s environmental laws are seen as too tough. They rely on an “outdated criminal system with draconian penalties such as imprisonment or industry closure. Because these penalties are so severe, they are difficult to enforce.”

The third recommendation is a market-based approach toward regulating emissions. Emissions trading systems, also known as cap-and-trade systems, are already being used in Europe. These systems encourage companies to reduce their emissions even further than the national standard by allowing them to sell “unused” credits to other companies.

Can’t breathe, can’t work

India’s relentless push for economic growth makes pollution reduction a tough challenge, but this latest research proposes that pollution could in fact be holding back this all-important growth.

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“This study demonstrates that air pollution retards growth by causing people to die prematurely.” said Michael Greenstone, an author of the study and a director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC).

“Other studies have also shown that air pollution reduces productivity at work, increases the incidence of sick days, and raises health care expenses that could be devoted to other goods”, he continued.

Pollution levels are troubling

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared air pollution the world’s single largest environmental health risk. Data from the India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), reveals that 77% of Indian urban agglomerations exceed safety standards for suspended particulate matter.

According to the WHO, Delhi is the most polluted city in the world with 13 other Indian cities being among the planet’s 20 worst polluted cities. Death rates due to chronic respiratory diseases in India are the highest of any country.

The analysis of life expectancy in India used findings from an earlier study in which Greenstone compared pollution in two regions of China. Findings from the China study determined metrics for life-expectancy loss, which was applied to the Indian study.


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