A man, wearing an anti-pollution mask, jogs through smog at a park in New Delhi. (Source: PTI)

Air Pollution From Stubble Burning Costs India $30 Billion A Year: IFPRI Study

Air pollution due to crop residue burning in northern India is a leading risk factor of acute respiratory infections and causes an estimated economic loss of $30 billion annually, according to a new study.

Researchers from the U.S.-based International Food Policy Research Institute and partner institutes found that living in districts with air pollution from intense crop residue burning is a leading risk factor for acute respiratory infection, especially among children less than five years.

The study that estimates -- for the first time -- the health and economic costs of crop residue burning in northern India also found that the practice leads to an estimated economic loss of over $30 billion 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.
Samuel Scott, Research Fellow, IFPRI

"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," Scott, who is also the co-author of the report, said in a statement.

The study also estimated the economic cost of exposure to air pollution from crop residue burning at $30 billion or nearly Rs 2 lakh crore annually for the three north Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, researchers said.

To be published in the upcoming edition of the International Journal of Epidemiology, the study analysed health data from more than 2,50,000 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 crop residue burning.

Economic losses owing to exposure to air pollution from firecracker burning are estimated to be around $7 billion or nearly Rs 50 thousand crore a year, researchers said.

In five years, the economic loss due to burning of crop residue and firecrackers is estimated to be $190 billion, or nearly 1.7 per cent of India's GDP, they said.

Also read: India Among Top 10 Carbon Polluters To Show Progress, But Farm Crisis Will Worsen