Delhi’s economy suffered the most due to severe air pollution last year: Lancet study

Delhi suffered the highest per-capita economic loss due to air pollution last year in India, according to a study published in peer-reviewed medical journal Lancet on Tuesday.

The loss due to lost output from premature deaths and illness attributable to air pollution as a percentage of state GDP was 1.06% in Delhi. The highest loss to GDP was recorded by Uttar Pradesh at 1.34% followed by Punjab at 1.22%.

The study noted India is facing losses to its GDP and productivity due to the health impacts of air pollution. Overall deaths and disease due to air pollution have been linked to loss of 1.36% of India’s GDP, according to the study.

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Delhi’s per-capita GDP loss was to the tune of $62 followed by neighbouring Haryana ($53.8).

In 2019, 1.67 million deaths in India were attributable to air pollution. They accounted for 17·8% of the total deaths.

Between 1990 and 2019, the death rate per 100,000 population has increased by 115.3% due to exposure to high outdoor air pollution levels. The death rate due to exposure to household air pollution has decreased by 64.2% due to a reduction in the use of solid fuels.

But death rate due to exposure to the ground-level ozone also increased by 115% during the 29-year period.


The study has estimated that economic loss due to lost output from premature deaths due to air pollution in India last year was US$28·8 billion and from morbidity due to air pollution was $8·0 billion. Of the total economic loss of $36·8 billion, 36·6% was from lung diseases, which included chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (21·1%), lower respiratory infections (14·2%), and lung cancer (1·2%). The rest was from ischaemic heart disease (24·9%), stroke (14·1%), diabetes (8·4%), neonatal disorders (13·3%), and cataract (2·7%).

The economic impact of air pollution was estimated by the authors of the study based on output per worker. The output per worker in each state in 2019 was calculated as the labour share of GDP multiplied by GDP in 2018–19 divided by the number of people who were employed. The labour share of GDP in each state was estimated using data from the Penn World Tables. To factor in the number of people per age group who were working, data from the National Sample Survey on employment and unemployment for 2011–12 was used.


“Air pollution has the potential to impede accumulation of future human capital by reducing children’s survival, undermining their health, and reducing their ability to benefit from education. The cost savings resulting from the prevention of productivity losses attributable to air pollution would contribute to the formation of new human capital,” the study said. It cited the example of the US, where every dollar invested in the control of air pollution since 1970 is estimated to have yielded an economic benefit of $30. There has been a substantial reduction in air pollution in the US over the past few decades along with significant economic growth, the study said.

The annual average population-weighted mean PM2·5 concentration in India was 91·7 micrograms per cubic metres last year. Exposure to outdoor PM 2.5 ranged from 15·8 micrograms per cubic metres in Kerala, to 217·6 micrograms per cubic metres in Delhi—a 13·8 times difference. Higher concentrations were found in the northern states.


Prof Lalit Dandona, Director of the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative, and an author of the study said, “The economic impact of this health loss due to lost productivity is huge at 1.4% of the country’s GDP in 2019, besides a roughly estimated expenditure of 0.4% of the GDP on the treatment of air pollution-related diseases. The health and economic impact of air pollution are highest in the less developed states of India, an inequity that should be addressed.”

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