The level of air pollution in India has been a public health concern for some time. It was the cause of over a million deaths in 2015 alone, which is an estimated 25% of air pollution related deaths globally. The pollution problem has been increasing consistently over the last two decades as India’s economy continues to grow.

The main focus from a health perspective has been the capital Delhi, which has been named as by the WHO as the most polluted city in the world. However, a new report has shown that 75% of the countries pollution related deaths are occurring in rural areas. Citizens in these areas make up two thirds of the country at over 1.3 people and this study indicates that they are disproportionally at risk of the adverse health effects of breathing polluted air.

Despite the belief that those living in cities are most at risk from air pollution, this research showed that exposure to airborne pollution particles was close to being equal across rural and urban areas in India. The scientists noted that the higher rate of deaths in rural areas is due to the fact that a larger proportion of the population still lives in rural areas rather than moving to bigger cities.

According to Chandra Venkataraman, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay who took part in conducting the study said “Air pollution is a national, pan-India problem. It’s not limited to urban centers and megacities, and it disproportionately affects rural Indians more than urban Indians”

The study took into account data from an in-depth analysis of the sources of air pollutions and the health implications across all areas of the country. Milind Kandlikar, a professor who studies air pollution at the University of British Columbia. He was not involved with the study added “This put all the pieces together. It moves from sources to human health effects. And it does this across the entire country.”

According to the study, the biggest contributor to pollution in India is residential biomass burning, which includes burning wood or crop residue to cook or heat homes. It also recognised transport emissions as a major factor in the rising levels of pollution. Researchers have urged that the authorities take immediate action to tackle this growing problem; otherwise the number of deaths will continue to rise.

“I think we’re starting to see the signs that things will start to get better,” said Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia who studies the links between human health and the environment and one of the scientists who led the study. “I think there’s an understanding of what the solutions need to be. It’s not rocket science, and more importantly, we know how to do this.”

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