(image via flickr)
India is now challenging China for a dubious distinction: home of the most toxic air on the planet.
Given ubiquitous smoggy photos of Beijing and environs, it's probably no shock to anyone that China has long had the most deaths attributed to air pollution. But while China is stabilising its air pollution death rate — estimated at 1.1 million people a year — India has caught up.
Deaths in India related to polluted air rose 50 percent from 1990 to 2015 to 1.1 million per year, about the same number in China, according to a report from the Health Effects Institute.
Watch our documentary on the single most polluted place on earth, the coal-mining town of Linfen in Shanxi Province, China:
Air pollution caused 4.2 million premature deaths around the world in 2015, up from 3.5 million in 1990, according to the organisation. Over half of those deaths, 2.2 million, occurred in China and India.
One of the study's authors, Michael Brauer, told the New York Times the increase in air pollution in India is the result of rapid industrialisation, population growth, and an aging population more vulnerable to health effects from air pollution.
Though images of masked commuters and thick smog are synonymous with China, the death rate from air pollution there is levelling off, but India's pollution problem is worsening, and without policies targeting the problem, shows no signs of abating.
"The idea that policymaking should be led by government is lacking," Bhargav Krishna, a manager for environmental health at the Public Health Foundation of India, told the New York Times.
The report used two measures of outdoor air pollution: ambient fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, and ozone. Exposure to PM2.5 was the fifth-highest-ranking risk factor for death, the report said, responsible for deaths from heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, chronic lung disease, and respiratory infections.
This story was originally published on Vice News. You can read more here.