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Costs of denial (The Indian Express )

In 2014, the government dismissed a WHO report that stated Delhi’s air quality was the worst in the world. (AP Photo/File)
Last week, Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave asserted that there is no conclusive evidence linking mortality and air pollution. In December, the minister had argued in the Rajya Sabha that there are no credible studies linking air pollution to death. The minister and the government could do well to carefully read the State of Global Air report prepared by the Boston-based Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the Washington University. The report, released on Tuesday, points out that dirty air doomed 91 out of one lakh Indians to early death in 2015. For the first time since 1990, India has lost more people to outdoor air pollution than China — the world’s most populous country recorded 85 deaths per lakh in 2015.
Governments in India have been known to be either indifferent to or dismissive of reports that indict the country’s performance on health and environmental parameters. In 2014, the government dismissed a WHO report that stated Delhi’s air quality was the worst in the world. But the government would be well-advised to not ignore the State of the Global Air report for several reasons. The report draws on the Global Burden of Diseases data which is becoming an important tracker of health trends the world over. More importantly, the ill-effects of air pollution have been palpable in the country in the past decade, leading the courts to intervene on more than one occasion. The State of Global Air Report ranks outdoor air pollution as the third leading health risk in the country.
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The report also comes nearly a month after the Centre announced its plans for a graded response to pollution. The plan involves upgradation of the Central Pollution Control Board infrastructure and additional monitoring stations within six months. Though it pertains to the Delhi-NCR region, the plan is expected to provide a pollution monitoring roadmap to the rest of the country. It will need to take cognisance of a new pollutant mentioned in the report — ozone. Though the casualties from the gas are far less than the well-known PM 2.5, the rate of increase in ozone-related deaths is alarming. The report notes a 148 per cent increase in ozone-related deaths since 1990. The science on ozone pollution is still in its early stage and it could well be that the figures in the report are nebulous. But ozone pollution is surely something which the graded action plan would do well to address. A start could perhaps be made by having ozone monitoring stations. More significantly, the report is a warning that those at the helm of environmental affairs in the country cannot afford to live in denial.

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