Report: Air Pollution Killed 50,000+ People in New Delhi, India, in 2020

People gather in front of India Gate amid smoggy conditions in New Delhi on January 14, 2021. (Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP) (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

Air pollution killed 54,000 people in New Delhi, India’s national capital, last year, Greenpeace Southeast Asia revealed in a study published Thursday.

“Delhi sustained an estimated 54,000 avoidable deaths due to PM2.5 [fine particulate matter] air pollution in 2020, or one death per 500 people,” the report stated.

Exposure to PM2.5 – fine particulate matter measuring smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter – can cause cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and cancers. New Delhi’s air pollution deaths cost the city’s economy an estimated $8.1 billion last year, which amounts to roughly 13 percent of the city’s annual GDP.

New Delhi is home to over 30 million people. It ranks as India’s most populous city and the second-most populated city globally after Tokyo, Japan, and has long been considered one of the world’s most polluted cities. The Indian capital’s air pollutant levels remain nearly six times higher than the prescribed World Health Organization limits of 10 g/m3 annual mean, according to the Greenpeace study.

North Indian farmers have long practiced stubble burning – a method of clearing agricultural fields by intentionally burning the organic residue left over after harvesting. North Indian states surrounding New Delhi, notably Punjab, recorded a marked increase in stubble burning last year due to early harvesting. Smoke from the agricultural burns travels to nearby New Delhi and contributes significantly to the capital’s air pollution levels.

Other Indian cities were also significantly affected by air pollution in 2020.

“An estimated 25,000 avoidable deaths in Mumbai in 2020 have been attributed to air pollution. Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Lucknow estimated an approximate 12,000, 11,000, 11,000, and 6,700 avoidable deaths respectively due to polluted air,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s study further revealed.

Jakarta, Indonesia, documented “13,000 avoidable deaths due to PM2.5 air pollution in 2020 and sustained air pollution-related losses of USD $3.4 billion, equivalent to 8.2 percent of the city’s total GDP,” according to the report.

Of the cities included in the Greenpeace study, “the highest estimated total financial cost from air pollution was recorded in Tokyo, which suffered approximately 40,000 avoidable deaths and an economic loss of USD $43 billion due to PM2.5 air pollution in 2020. Los Angeles recorded the highest per capita financial cost of PM2.5 air pollution of all cities on the estimator, at approximately USD $2,700 per resident.”

Exposure to PM2.5 air pollutants killed 160,000 people across the world’s five most populated cities – Tokyo (37 million), New Delhi (30 million), Shanghai (26 million), São Paulo (22 million), and Mexico City (22 million) – in 2020, according to Greenpeace. PM2.5 exposure caused 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2015.


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