India tops list of countries in ozone pollution deaths

"You can nearly think of this as the ideal storm for India", said Michael Brauer, a professor of environment and health relationships at the University of British Columbia and an author of the study, in a telephone interview.

The report is a joint effort between the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evalution's Global Burden of Disease Project.

The number of premature deaths in China caused by unsafe air particles, known as PM2.5, has stabilised globally in recent years.

"The benefits of active travel outweighed the harm from air pollution in all but the most extreme air pollution concentrations", said one of the report's authors, Audrey de Nazelle from Imperial College's Centre for Environmental Policy. From 2010 to 2015, the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution each year has gone from 957,000 to about 1.1 million.

A spokesman for India's environment ministry could not be reached for comment, but minister Anil Madhav Dave said last week that "there is no conclusive data available" on the link between pollution and mortality, media reported.

Around 92 per cent of the world's population lives in areas with "unhealthy" air.

Household solid fuel use, coal-fired power plants, transportation, and open burning of agricultural and other wastes are among the most important contributors to outdoor air pollution.

But whereas deaths linked to air pollution in China have steadied in recent years, the rate has soared in India where smog readings in major cities routinely eclipse safe exposure levels.

Poor air quality causes almost 122, 400 premature deaths every year in Bangladesh, says a new study. China and India together accounted for 52 percent of those.

"These studies are hard to do, and isolating the effects of air pollution is hard", Ezzati said.

India's deepening pollution problem, which hit home with a vengeance after Diwali a year ago as Delhi and NCR woke up enveloped in smog that refused to lift for days, has a death toll second only to China's, and together the two nations account for over half the world's deaths from pollution.

New Delhi is no less, with dust and diesel-driven cars adding to the pollution woe. India's Supreme Court banned the sale of fireworks, popular during the Hindu festival Diwali, in the capital after the emergency. Sources of these particles include motor vehicle combustion, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and industrial processes; majority which are prevalent in India and China. In December, the data portal IndiaSpend found that the pilgrimage city of Varanasi had the country's worst air, followed by heavily industrial cities such as Kanpur.

  • Joey Payne