By Seerat Kaur
According to the World Bank, air pollution costs around $5.11 trillion in welfare losses, globally. Air pollution is considered to be the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths across the world, highest witnessed in India which recorded 1.81 million cases. These numbers continue to escalate in developing countries like India as they progress towards urbanization.
India’s losses due to air pollution over the course of 23 years from 1990 to 2013 have been estimated to be around $560 billion. This increase in economic burden is directly proportional to an increase in public healthcare costs and workforce disruption.
The costs associated with Air pollution are considered as hidden costs and are intangible in nature. The government of the country has put a number of policies in place in order to reduce the pollution levels in the capital city. These include a ban on construction activities, implementing the odd-even rule and closing schools down temporarily in order to safeguard the health of the masses. However, the 17 million people living in the city still continue to suffer from higher than recommended pollution levels.
Reasons for economic slowdown
Slowdown in tourism
The economic implications of this health crisis have resulted in fewer tourist visits over the course of the years and young educated workforce to look for employment elsewhere in order to safeguard their health.
An increase in the levels of pollution leads to a delay in the monsoons across the country which could have a serious economic impact for states that rely on these monsoons for food, agriculture and livelihood.
The air pollution spike has led to the government taking stringent measures like a construction bans until the pollution levels subside. The dust generated through these activities further exacerbate the harmful effects of air pollution. The continuous disruption of activities in this sector has translated into severe losses for this industry in Delhi.
Schools closed, Work hours disruption
Increasing levels of air pollution have led to more people falling sick on daily basis. Inability to operate at full capacity due to pollution-induced ailments have severely hampered the workforce resulting in lower productivity. Due to the increasing AQI levels and in the interest of the children, which are the most vulnerable group due to their underdeveloped lungs, schools have been shut down more than once. This has hampered the studies of the children and may even play a more significant role in the longer run.
Air pollution is responsible for around 29 million cases of restrictive activity days (RAD) which means either less productive days or days off from work for individuals in Delhi. The severely increasing levels of pollution in the city have also led to an estimated 0.12 million visits to the emergency room for respiratory related problems in 2015 alone. (Borwankar, 2017)
Lesser FDI investments
India being a fast growing developing country has attracted considerable FDI. The problem lies when the investors are invited to India to set up plants and negotiate plans. The come to the capital which is choked due to air pollution and the investors are wary of sending their representatives for longer periods of time due to the health repercussions associated with the investment. This factor has deterred many FDI in the capital city which in turn has led to the slowing of the economy.
Lesser foreign national visits
For those who come from outside Delhi, this crisis is not a welcoming site. Expats working in Delhi are given more remuneration and health benefits than other countries. This is done to compensate for the health risk they face after being exposed to such severe air quality for longer periods. This is done to encourage people to come live in the city which is frequently referred to the ‘gas chamber’ during peak pollution months. Delhi is also home to foreign nationals from around the world who are also finding it increasingly difficult to validate the reasons for staying as opposed to the health risks of living in the city. (Jaiswal, 2017)
The health crisis in Delhi is affecting not only the health of the citizens of Delhi but also the health of the economy of the country. This in the long turn is going to have serious repercussions for a growing economy like India. In order to protect the interest of the economy, the authorities along with the public need to make informed decisions and act fast on curbing this air pollution. As mentioned in the Envecologic – Air pollution study called ‘State of Delhi’s Air’, the public needs to work alongside the government in order to clean house.
According to the survey, 45% of the respondents have already spent money on reactive measures like ‘medical bills’. While, roughly 35% of the people have spent money on preventive measures like ‘masks’ and ‘purifying plants’. This shows that the citizens of Delhi are already facing the economic burden of the air pollution crisis. In addition to these measures, most residents opt to spend time out of station to avoid the pollution all together. Though only 14% of the respondents indulge in this, the idea is catching up fast with the masses.
We as individuals living in Delhi are also responsible for contributing towards the crisis in our own way, be it vehicular emissions, emissions generated through cooking fuel, construction activities and so on. Thus, it is only fair that we be a contributing factor towards the solution of this problem as well.