India’s Poorest Suffer Most From Air Pollution

India’s low-income households are at significantly higher risk for premature deaths due to air pollution compared to high-income groups.

AsianScientist (Oct. 12, 2021) – While higher-income households contribute most to India’s air pollution, it is the low-income population that bears the brunt of the health consequences. These findings were published in Nature Sustainability.

From factory smog to fine dust, emissions are skyrocketing globally, with India accounting for 22 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world. Besides aggravating global warming, air pollution also poses a serious threat to health.

Whether from industrial production or household emissions, the smog cloaking India’s cities are predominantly fine particulate matter (PM2.5). With tiny diameters of less than 2.5 micrometers, these particles are only three percent the size of a hair strand.

At high concentrations, PM2.5 make the air hazy and are linked to heart and lung diseases and cognitive impairments. It also leads to an increased risk for premature deaths, with toxic air taking nearly a million lives per year in India.

Although researchers are closely investigating these health impacts, much less is known about the demographics of those affected by air pollution. To fill this gap, a team at Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis quantified the PM2.5 pollution contributions of households from different income groups and their corresponding mortality risk.

By analyzing emissions data like fuel combustion, they found that indirect sources, such as the manufacturing of consumer products, generated twice as much air pollution as direct emissions from household cooking stoves.

Based on the team’s model, higher-income populations shouldered much of the pollution responsibility. For these households, higher income growth typically translated into more frequent transport and purchasing more industrial goods, racking up emissions contributions.

Strikingly, however, lower-income households were more vulnerable to toxic air compared to higher-income groups. Because of their increased exposure to PM2.5 pollution, India’s poorest 10 percent had nine times higher risk of premature deaths than the richest 10 percent of the population.

According to the researchers, industry-wide pollution controls would be critical to reduce indirect emissions. Beyond this, switching to clean cooking fuels could help cut household emissions, potentially lowering premature death risk by ten-fold.

“A useful next step would be to develop a forward-looking perspective that examines the equity implications of potential future air quality policies in different socioeconomic contexts,” the authors concluded. “Additional air pollution control options, such as fuel switches and energy efficiency measures, may be useful to investigate.”

The article can be found at: Rao et al. (2021) Household contributions to and impacts from air pollution in India.


Source: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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