Residual Crop Burning In India Poses Health Risks, Economic Losses

Researchers in India and the US have found that residual crop burning to clear farmland is linked to poor respiratory health and up to US$30 million in economic losses annually.

AsianScientist (Mar. 19, 2019) – An international team of scientists has found that living in districts with air pollution from intense crop residue burning (CRB) is a leading risk factor for acute respiratory infection (ARI), especially among children less than five years, in northern India. The results of the study are published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

CRB in India is concentrated in its northwest region, although it has spread to other areas of the country in the past decade. Farmers try to maximize their yields by planting the next crop as soon as possible after the previous crop has been harvested.

To quickly clear the field for the next crop, they burn the leftover stubble rather than use the traditional method of clearing it by hand. Despite efforts from the Indian government, farmers continue to burn crop residues due to lack of convenient and affordable alternatives.

In this study, researchers led by Dr. Samuel P. Scott at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), US, found that CRB is associated with ARI incidence in India, and that children under the age of five are the most vulnerable.

The researchers observed that as crop burning increased in the northern Indian state of Haryana, respiratory health worsened. Health was measured by the frequency of reported hospital visits for ARI symptoms. They also examined other factors that could contribute to poor respiratory health, such as firecracker burning and motor vehicle density. They eventually concluded that CRB leads to an estimated economic loss of over US$30 billion annually.

“Poor air quality is a recognized global public health epidemic, with levels of airborne particulate matter in Delhi spiking to 20 times the World Health Organization’s safety threshold during certain days. Among other factors, smoke from the burning of agricultural crop residue by farmers in Haryana and Punjab especially contributes to Delhi’s poor air, increasing the risk of ARI three-fold for those living in districts with intense crop burning,” said Scott.

The scientists also highlighted that although the women, children and men of rural Haryana are the first victims of crop residue burning, much of the public discussion on the ill effects of CRB ignores this immediately affected vulnerable population.

“Programs and policies must simultaneously address indoor and outdoor pollution through a possible combination of bans and agricultural subsidies. Other important interventions for improving respiratory health are increasing household access to clean cooking fuels, electricity and improved drainage systems,” said co-author Dr. Avinash Kishore of IFPRI, India.

The article can be found at: Chakrabarti et al. (2018) Risk of Acute Respiratory Infection From Crop Burning in India: Estimating Disease Burden and Economic Welfare From Satellite and National Health Survey Data for 250,000 Person.


Source: International Food Policy Research Institute; Photo: Pixabay.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist