Nearly 2% of India’s GDP spent on combating air pollution in the past five years
The air pollution from firecrackers causes economic losses of nearly Rs 50,000 crore annually, researchers estimate.
Crop residue burning (CRB), also known as stubble burning, is a leading risk factor for acute respiratory infections (ARI) especially among children, according to a study.
US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that CRB is a cause for poor air quality in Northern India. The study estimated that the economic loss due to CRB is Rs 2 lakh crores annually.
"Poor air quality is a recognised global public health epidemic, with levels of airborne particulate matter in Delhi spiking to 20 times the World Health Organization's safety threshold during certain days," said Samuel Scott, IFPRI Research Fellow, and co-author of the study. Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi are the most affected parts of northern India.
The study addressed the common misconception of megacities polluting their surroundings. It said that smoke from the burning of agricultural crop residue by farmers, particularly in Haryana and Punjab, contributes to Delhi's poor air.
How was the study carried out?
NASA satellite data on areas with fire activity was compared with areas not affected by CRB to estimate the health impact.
Health was also measured by the frequency of reported hospital visits for ARI symptoms.
Health data from over 2,50,000 individuals residing in rural and urban areas were studied.
Data from the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) shows that an estimated 23 million tonnes of paddy straw is burnt in Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh alone.
The stubble burning shoots up the carbon dioxide levels in the air by 70%. The concentration of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide also rises by 7% and 2.1%, respectively.
Other factors contributing to poor respiratory health, such as burning firecrackers during Diwali was included in the study. Researchers estimated that economic losses from exposure to air pollution from firecracker burning are nearly Rs 50,000 crore annually.
In the past five years, the economic loss due to the burning of crop residue and firecrackers is estimated to be nearly 1.7 percent of India's gross domestic product (GDP).
Researchers noted that crop burning is a widespread global practice. This practice is heavily practiced in northwest India. Leftover stubble from the previous crop is burnt rather than being cleared by hand to plant the next crop.
Agricultural air pollution comes mainly in the form of ammonia, which enters the atmosphere as gas from heavily fertilized fields and livestock waste. Nitrous oxide is the major greenhouse gas that is contributed by fertilizers.
Rs 1,151.80 crore has been allocated by the Centre to promote agricultural mechanisation for In-Situ Management of Crop Residue in the States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi. Out of this total allocation, an amount of Rs 575.18 has been released for the FY 2018-19.