Air pollution from India’s stubble burning leads to $35 billion economic losses: IFPRI Study

Air pollution from intense crop residue burning (CRB) leads to an estimated economic loss of over USD 35 billion annually, claims a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Additionally, CRB is also a leading risk factor for acute respiratory infection (ARI), especially among children less than five years, particularly in the northern parts of India where stubble burning is a norm.

These are the key findings of a new study from researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and partner institutes. The study estimates—for the first time—the health and economic costs of CRB in northern India.

“Poor air quality is a recognized 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. Among other factors, smoke from the burning of agricultural crop residue by farmers in Haryana and Punjab especially contributes to Delhi’s poor air, increasing the risk of ARI three-fold for those living in districts with intense crop burning,” said IFPRI Research Fellow and co-author of the study, Samuel Scott in a press release.

The study also estimated the economic cost of exposure to air pollution from crop residue burning at USD 35 billion or nearly Rs. 2.35 lakh crore annually for the three north Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.

The study, “Risk of acute respiratory infection from crop burning in India: estimating disease burden and economic welfare from satellite and national health survey data for 250,000 persons,” will be published in an upcoming edition of the International Journal of Epidemiology. The study analyzed health data from more than 250,000 individuals of all ages residing in rural and urban areas in India. It used NASA satellite data on fire activity to estimate the health impact of living in areas with intense crop burning by comparing them with areas not affected by CRB.

The researchers observed that as crop burning increased in the northern Indian state of Haryana, respiratory health worsened. They also examined other factors that could contribute to poor respiratory health such as firecracker burning during Diwali (it usually coincides with time of CRB) and motor vehicle density. In fact, economic losses owing to exposure to air pollution from firecracker burning are estimated to be around $8.3 billion or nearly Rs.58 thousand crore a year.  In five years, the economic loss due to burning of crop residue and firecrackers is estimated to be nearly 1.7 per cent of India’s GDP.

Shekhar Ghosh is a communications consultant and and former journalist, who has edited and written for publications such as like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today and Outlook.

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