Bad Air equals Bad Economy?

Environmental pollution is one of the greatest problems faced by the world today. All types of pollution like air, water and soil have a harmful impact on the living environment. Among these many cities in the world are addressing the impacts of air pollution as it rises at an alarming rate. In 2019, air pollution is considered as the greatest environmental risk to health by the World Health Organisation(WHO). Studies have shown that microscopic pollutants in the air can penetrate respiratory and circulatory systems, damaging the lungs, brain and heart , killing 7 million people prematurely every year from diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart and lung disease. In addition, it negatively affects the neurodevelopment of children resulting development of behavioural disorders such as autism spectrum and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Air pollution is now the biggest single killer in the world. Around 90% of these deaths are in low and middle-income countries with high volumes of emissions from industry, transport and agriculture, as well as dirty cookstoves and fuels in homes. Both indoor and outdoor air pollution is a major environmental health problem affecting everyone in developed and developing countries alike. Most of the world’s population will be subject to degraded air quality in 2050 if human-made emissions continue as usual.

Global air pollution database of WHO said that India is home to the world’s 14 most polluted cities based on the amount of particulate matter under 2.5 micrograms found in every cubic metre of air. Another recently published report by the Health Effects Institute on air pollution in India (2018) reports that air pollution was responsible for 1.1 million death in India in 2015. Air pollution in India is mostly due to household burning emissions, coal combustion, agricultural burning, emission from vehicles and traffic congestion. India’s air pollution has become a public health and economic crisis. However, the economic consequences due to air pollution have not been addressed much. On the economic perspective, the forced closures of schools and industries, delay of flights and freights, goods and passenger trains have already started impacting our economy. The World Bank estimates that India loses around 8.5% of its GDP due to air pollution.

Pollution has a deep economic impact on the whole gross domestic product (GDP). A study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, found that air pollution cost in Mumbai and Delhi is $10.66 billion (approximately Rs 70,000 crore) in 2015 or about 0.71% of the country’s GDP. The researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) reported that prolonged exposure to air pollution can reduce employee’s productivity. The study showed that daily fluctuations in pollution did not immediately affect the productivity of workers. But working in a highly polluted setting for long periods of time could affect the employee’s mood or disposition to work. Air pollution also affects the recruitment process of businesses as many talented employees do not want to work in cities with higher air pollution. Moreover, the employees wanted to leave the polluted cities. As a result, some companies in India started to offer compensation packages to attract senior talent to work in polluted cities. Pollution is responsible for 7% of annual healthcare spending in middle-income countries that are heavily polluted and rapidly developing. According to a 2017 study by British medical journal Lancet, pollution can bring down economic output by as much as 2 per cent annually in less-developed countries. The biggest increases in such pollution-related deaths have also been recorded in India and Bangladesh. At 1.81 million, India topped the charts, with China second at 1.58 million. According to the United Nations rising air pollution is likely to impact rainfall patterns and decrease monsoon which can cause extensive financial losses. Thus the three different market impacts of air pollution are reduced labour productivity, increased health expenditures and crop yield losses that in turn badly affect the economy of a country.

In January 2019, the government launched the National Clean Air Program (NCAP), a five-year action plan to curb air pollution, build a pan-India air quality monitoring network, and improve citizen awareness. The plan is to reduce air pollution in the 102 worst-affected cities in the country by 20-30 per cent by 2024. The plan outlines multiple actions and their timelines for central ministries, states and city-level agencies seeking to curb vehicular, industrial and thermal power emissions and reduce the air pollution from the burning of crop residue and firewood, brick production, construction and other activities. Some actions are either ongoing or due for immediate implementation, while others have timelines up to 2024. If the government takes tough measures against pollution and implemented it properly will certainly increase productivity and lead to economic benefits. Along with that each and every citizen should think about how we can contribute to improving the air quality in order to protect our livelihoods and future.

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