How Air Pollution Is Costing Us Our Lives & Trillions Of Rupees

Environmental protection and measures to curb pollution are often seen as antithetical to big businesses and the economy, but this perspective is perhaps clouded because of our flawed reasoning.

While we only look at the costs of regulating industry and curbing pollution, most of us fail to factor in the growing costs of health care and financial losses that stem from air pollution. Minister of state for health and family welfare Anupriya Patel brought this into focus during parliamentary discussions recently, pointing to the findings of a 2013 World Bank report.

The Human Cost Of Air Pollution

“Air pollution affects 90 percent of the world’s population, causing over 6 million deaths each year – around half a million of those deaths are in India alone”

Most of us have a vague understanding of the health risks of air pollution, but we tend to underestimate its impact. A World Health Organization report that was published last year brought the point home, when it revealed that air pollution affects 90 percent of the world’s population, causing over 6 million deaths each year!

A large chunk of this burden rests with India, where cardiovascular disease is now the leading cause of death. In fact, we lose an estimated half a million people each year to illnesses linked with pollution, including heart disease, lung cancer, and strokes.

While half a million may succumb to air pollution each year, millions more suffer impaired quality of life and disability because of pollution.

Putting A Price On Human Life

“India is the worst hit nation after China, with air pollution and environmental damage costing us around USD 505.1 billion or 7.69% of the GDP each year!”

As numbers are all that resonate with the business world, we are now forced to put a price on human life, quantifying the losses from air pollution. According to the World Bank report “The cost of air pollution: strengthening the economic case for action“, India is the worst hit nation after China, with air pollution and environmental damage costing us around USD 505.1 billion or 7.69% of the GDP each year!

The financial cost of lost labor output because of air pollution was also highest for India, at USD 55.39 billion. According to experts, the combined costs from medical care and lost labor puts India’s GDP loss at over 8.5%!

Another interesting study, that appeared in the journal Public Health, examined the costs of air pollution to city residents in Mumbai, resulting from medical bills and lost earnings because of illnesses related to air pollution.

They estimated that treatment costs for air pollution related ailments in Mumbai would rise from INR 1,349.42 crore in 2008 to INR 1,658.20 crore by 2015. Some experts say that we’ve already exceeded these estimates.

Why Does Air Pollution Have Such A Huge Financial Cost?

“With escalating health care costs and productivity losses resulting from illness, disability, and death, businesses are also directly impacted by the problem”

Air pollution is often regarded as a problem that affects human health, but with escalating health care costs and productivity losses resulting from illness, disability, and death, businesses are also directly impacted by the problem.

Nothing illustrates this better than the virtual shutdown of Delhi last year because of soaring pollution levels. Experts use the term ‘Disability-adjusted life years’ as a measure of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death. Findings released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Indian Council of Medical Research calculated these lost years at around 18 million healthy years lost because of air pollution related illnesses.

While we can now moan and bitch about the lack of government initiatives to tackle air pollution and environmental degradation, change can only be initiated from the ground level. You can start by being more socially involved, helping spread awareness, and by reducing your carbon footprint through conservation practices.

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