‘In J&K, improved air quality can add 2 year to life span’

In winters air quality in Kashmir has been reported to be worse than that of Delhi, mainly due to burning of wood, kerosene in homes, charcoal in Kangris. ( pic Kangri, butning fire on road during winters)
‘In J&K, improved air quality can add 2 year to life span’
Representational pic

For the first time, a study published in prestigious international medical journal, Lancet has linked air pollution with life expectancy across different states in India including Jammu and Kashmir. The findings reveal how bringing down emissions and pollutants from various sources could add not just years to life, but to its quality too. The study released this month, titled "The impact of air pollution on deaths, disease burden, and life expectancy across the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017", is the first ever pan-India estimate of burden of diseases due to air pollution. The report begins with a stark statement: air pollution contributes substantially to premature mortality. "We report that one out of every eight deaths in India in 2017 could be attributed to air pollution," it says. In India, ambient particulate matter pollution, household air pollution, and to some extent ozone in the troposphere, the lowest layer of atmosphere, are the main concerns according to the study. However, there are variations between states in terms of levels and sources of air pollution. The study presents exhaustive data and discussion on exposure to ambient particulate matter pollution and household air pollution, and their impact on deaths, disease burden and life expectancy in each state of India. The available data on ambient air pollution, indoor air pollution and life expectancy has been used to decipher what the life expectancy would have been in each state if air pollution concentrations had been less than the "minimum risk exposure level causing health loss". The report reveals that in J&K the impact of controlling air pollution on health of people "could be more pronounced compared to all-India average". At all-India level rise in life span, as per the study, would mean increase of 1.7 years. However, in J&K, this could mean an increase of two years in life span if air pollution levels were brought down to WHO standards, the study states, adding that in most states life expectancy increase by controlling air pollution is expected to be less than two years. In other words, in J&K, reduction in ambient air pollution will have much greater impact on improving life expectancy than most other states. Only Delhi, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are shown to benefit more in terms of increase in life expectancy if ambient air pollution is brought down. The study is an analysis of data from Global Burden of Disease (GBD)-2017. From across India, 76 researchers have collaborated to the report. Prof Parvaiz A Koul, head of internal and pulmonary medicine at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), who is the only contributor from J&K for the studies, said that effect of air pollution on health of people needs more research in the state. The report holds air pollution responsible for life years lost to lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and ischaemic heart disease, followed by stroke, diabetes, lung cancer and cataract. "The available data makes it amply clear that air pollution affects lives and health of our people on many parameters," Prof Koul said. "We have already seen that air pollution has a colossal bearing on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) here." As per an earlier published GBD report, "Burden of chronic respiratory diseases and their heterogeneity across the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 1990–2016", in J&K, over 4750 people per lakh population suffer from COPD. The number is much higher than expected given the socio-demographic index (SDI) of the state. J&K is among the top four states of India in terms of COPD burden. The research attributes respiratory disease in J&K to ambient air pollution and smoking. Although in most other states, other risk factors such as household air pollution, occupational particulate matter and second hand smoke are also significant, in J&K, these factors are not main contributors, thus putting focus on air pollution and smoking. Prof Koul said deteriorating quality of air in Kashmir, especially in winter was a major concern. "In winters air quality here has been reported to be worse than that of Delhi, mainly due to burning of wood, kerosene in homes, charcoal in Kangris," he said. The report concludes that reducing the substantial avoidable deaths and disease burden from air pollution is dependent on "rapid deployment of effective multi-sectoral policies throughout India that are commensurate with the magnitude of air pollution in each state". "Although controlling air pollution is needed all over India, the heterogeneity between the states should be taken into account in designing policies and interventions consistent with the magnitude and sources of air pollution in each state," it says. While long-term studies reporting adverse health effects of air pollution in J&K are not available, nor are there any consistent measurements of source-wise polluting factors, researchers feel such exercise will strengthen the understanding of fallouts of pollution and improve policy decisions. The GBD report makes reference to WHO database of air pollution which states that 14 of the 15 cities with the worst air pollution in the world are in India. The list included the summer capital of J&K – Srinagar. In October, National Green Tribunal (NGT) rapped J&K over its pollution levels and instructed it to put in mechanisms and an action plan to bring the levels down. A study carried out jointly by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and University of Kashmir has found that air quality in Kashmir deteriorates "significantly" in winter months. Shockingly, the researchers found PM 2.5 levels in winters touching 350 micrograms per cubic meter, five times more than the permissible limit of 60 micrograms per cubic meter. Environmental experts have for long expressed concern over the huge number of vehicles added to Kashmir every year, spiking the emissions. Moreover, burning of horticulture waste, dust from bad roads, smoke from kilns and industrial emissions have also gone unchecked over the years, giving rise to concerns. "The report is a clarion call. J&K needs to talk about pollution, for the sake of the health of its people at least," Prof Koul said.

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