An estimated nine million people died worldwide in 2015 due to diseases caused by pollution -- the biggest cause globally of all premature deaths -- more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined and even more disastrous than all violence, with India and China contributing to 5.4 million of the pollution-related mortalities, a study has found.
"Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015," the study released on Thursday in The Lancet medical journal noted.
The study, the first to put together data on disease and death caused by all forms of pollution combined, said 16 per cent of all deaths worldwide were attributable to the environmental pollution.
This figure is three times more than the deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence. It is also one-and-a-half times higher than the number of people killed by smoking and over six times the number of people dying in road accidents.
In the most severely affected countries, pollution-related disease are responsible for more than one death in four, it said.
"In 2015, the greatest numbers of deaths due to pollution occurred in Southeast Asia (3·2 million) and the western Pacific (2·2 million). Southeast Asia includes India and the western Pacific region includes China," said the study.
Epidemiologist Philip Landrigan, dean of global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and the lead author on the report said pollution has never received the desired attention of world leaders, civil society and health professionals.
"There's been a lot of study of pollution, but it has never received the resources or level of attention as, say, Aids or climate change," Landrigan said.
"Despite its substantial effects on human health, the economy, and the environment, pollution has been neglected, especially in low-income and middle-income countries, and the health effects of pollution are under-estimated in calculations of the global burden of disease."
The report said that pollution in low-income and middle-income countries caused by industrial emissions, vehicular exhaust, and toxic chemicals has particularly been overlooked in both the international development and the global health agendas.
"Although more than 70 per cent of the diseases caused by pollution are non-communicable diseases, interventions against pollution are barely mentioned in the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases."
Stating that several cities in India and China had recorded alarming annual concentrations of PM2·5 pollution, the study said over 50 per cent of global deaths due to ambient air pollution in 2015 occurred in India and China.
"Ambient air pollution in rapidly expanding mega-cities such as New Delhi and Beijing attracts the greatest public attention. However, WHO documents that the problem of ambient air pollution is widespread in low-income and middle-income countries and finds that 98 per cent of urban areas in developing countries with populations of more than 100,000 people fail to meet the WHO global air quality guideline for PM2·5 pollution of 10 µg/m3 of ambient air annually."
Other countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, North Korea, South Sudan and Haiti have seen nearly one in every fifth premature deaths caused by pollution.
Pollution, the report said, was also "costly", costing some $4.6 trillion in annual losses - or about 6.2 per cent of the global economy.
"Pollution-related diseases cause productivity losses that reduce gross domestic product (GDP) in low-income to middle-income countries by up to 2 per cent each year. Pollution-related disease also results in health-care costs that are responsible for 1·7 per cent of annual health spending in high-income countries and for up to 7 per cent of health spending in middle-income countries that are heavily polluted and rapidly developing.\
"Welfare losses due to pollution are estimated to amount to $4·6 trillion per year: 6·2 per cent of global economic output. The costs attributed to pollution-related disease will probably increase as additional associations between pollution and disease are identified," it said.