Polluted air hurting Indian cities' economies: Hyd, B'luru, Chennai may lose over 4% GDP

The study says health impacts of air pollution affects the economy in different ways.
Polluted air and impact on GDP
Polluted air and impact on GDP
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Not many people are aware that there is a direct relation between air pollution and Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is an important indicator of the economic performance of a nation. According to a study by the Centre for Research on Environment and Clean Air (CREA), IQAir Air Visual and Greenpeace Southeast Asia, health damage from air pollution caused between 0.4% and 6% of annual GDP in the world’s leading cities for the first half of 2020.

The same research also found that the estimated losses were between 4.1% and 6.6% for Indian cities from the beginning of this year until September first week. According to the study, this was majorly due to increased risks of chronic illnesses, asthma, work absences, preterm births and many other health impacts.

How does air pollution affect the economy?

The different health impacts of air pollution affect the economy in different ways. For example, air pollution can cause breathing ailments in adults. This means not only the affected but also the immediate family members will have to take time off from work to accompany the affected member to a hospital or a doctor. It also means the family’s expenses incurred due to healthcare will increase while there is lesser economic productivity because they are unable to work.

CREA has worked with IQAir Air Visual and Greenpeace Southeast Asia to release an online tool that tracks the health impacts and economic costs of air pollution in the world’s cities in real time. The details of how this research assigned an economic cost to each type of health impact was based on existing studies assessing those costs.

The online tool uses air pollutant concentration data from AirVisual’s global database to track air pollution exposure in real time. While most of the health impacts are chronic, resulting from long-term exposure of pollutants we breathe in every day.

As per statistics from January 1 to September 4, 2020 the results reveal that out of the 28 cities included, New Delhi bore the highest cost of air pollution, amounting to 6.6% of its annual GDP.

Impact on north India & south India

Three north Indian cities and three south Indian cities were included in the research and it was found that the loss to GDP was found to be considerably higher in the north Indian cities. Delhi, Mumbai and Patna were included from north India and Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru were part of the study from the south.

When asked whether there was any particular reason or criteria based on which these 6 cities were included in the study, Avinash Kumar Chanchal, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace explained, “The tool has various cities across the world. In India, we predominantly chose metro cities while trying to maintain the balance between north west and south Indian cities to track the impact of air pollution.”

The data from the study for a period from January 1 to September 4, 2020 revealed the following results in terms of the loss to GDP.

Source: The data is from an online tool by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace Southeast Asia

“We need a comprehensive, systemic and time-bound action to reduce the air pollution levels. If we don’t act, these south Indian cities are not too far from Delhi in terms of the health and economic impact. It’s evident that air pollution is a public health crisis not only in north Indian cities but also in south Indian cities”, added Avinash.

Understanding the impact on the national capital

According to the research, lower respiratory infections and non-communicable diseases in Delhi have seen an increase often resulting in deaths. Due to illnesses, years of quality life is lost which means lesser productivity. The research revealed that over 4,000 new cases of asthma in children have been attributed to high levels of NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) pollution in New Delhi. This, in turn, has increased the number of children suffering from asthma.

Impact on cities and the effect of COVID-19

While the air quality index has improved during the COVID- 19 related lockdown, pollution continues to be a serious public health crisis and also a threat to the economy.

According to Avinash, the governments and local authorities in the post COVID-19 period must envisage policies that move towards transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. He said, “Human activities such as burning fossil fuels in transport, and the energy sector are the major sources of air pollution. Public investments should focus on tackling climate change and expand the dimensions of sustainability from the environmental perspective to protect public health”.

Greenpeace India had earlier this year released the Airpocalypse 4 report which has thrown light on pollution levels in states In the report they have also listed cities which have made it to the non-attainment list. Non-attainment cities are those that have been identified by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for having violated the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Here are excerpts from the Airpocalypse report which will provide an insight into the pollution in cities.


According to the Airpocalypse 4 report, 9 cities of Telangana are in the list of non-attainment cities. The report reveals that Particulate Matter (PM) 10 levels in Hyderabad and Ramagundam are almost twice the NAAQS standards prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board and five times the World Health Organization prescribed limits.

Other non-attainment cities in Telangana include Karimnagar, Warangal, Khammam, Sangareddy, Patenchuru, Adilabad and Nalgonda. In all these cities, the air quality levels are two to three times above the prescribed WHO limits.

Tamil Nadu

According to the same Airpocalypse report, it was found that four cities namely Trichy, Thoothukudi, Madurai and Chennai in Tamil Nadu are heavily polluted in terms of PM10 levels and air quality way higher than prescribed NAAQS standards.

PM10 levels in Salem, Coimbatore, Cuddalore and Mettur are almost three times the WHO prescribed limits, taking a toll on public health as PM10 levels have been associated with adverse health impacts on the human body.


The Airpocalypse report also cites eight cities namely, Bengaluru, Raichur, Belgaum, Tumkuru, Kolar, Bijapur, Hubli, Dharwad and Bagalkote in Karnataka that are heavily polluted in terms of PM10 and air quality is way higher than the prescribed limits under NAAQS. It is worth mentioning that the capital city Bengaluru and Raichur tops the list of non-attainment cities in Karnataka.

While, PM10 levels of Mangaluru, Gulbarga, Chitradurga and Mysuru are almost three times the WHO prescribed limits, Devanagare, Shimoga and Hasan’s PM10 levels are twice the WHO prescribed limits.

Despite the fact that every city in the state is polluted beyond safety limits only six cities, i.e. Bengaluru, Devanagare, Gulbarga, Hubli and Dharwad from Karnataka have only been included in NCAP as non-attainment cities and action plans have been formulated leaving others gasping for necessary actions.

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