India needs to wake up to the threat from rising air pollution, which has been declared as one of the top 10 killers in the world by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) count, which tracks deaths and illnesses from all causes across the world.

According to the latest GBD, air pollution is ranked the sixth most dangerous killer in South Asia — three places behind indoor air pollution, the second highest killer in this region, said the Centre of Science and Environment (CSE).

The study has found a ‘shocking’ rise in global death toll due to outdoor air pollution. According to the latest tally, air pollution caused 3.2 million deaths worldwide, a rise from 800,000, last estimated by GBD in 2000 – up 300 per cent.

In South Asia, air pollution has been ranked just below blood pressure, tobacco smoking, indoor air pollution, poor intake of fruits and diabetes. This is scary, as outdoor air pollution is a leveler that makes everyone — rich and poor — vulnerable, says the study.

Among the other findings, two-thirds of the death burden from outdoor air pollution occurs in developing Asia, including India. “The new GBD estimates over 2.1 million premature deaths and 52 million years of healthy life lost in 2010 due to fine particle air pollution in Asia, which is two-thirds of the burden worldwide,” CSE said.

Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s Executive Director-Research and Advocacy and head of its air pollution unit, said: “This GBD count on air pollution and its health risks must trigger urgent, aggressive and most stringent action in India to curb air pollution to protect public health. India cannot afford to enhance health risk at a time when much of its economic growth and motorisation are yet to happen.”

CSE suggested that national ambient air quality standards be made legally binding in all regions and steps be taken to control and cut the explosive increase in vehicle numbers by scaling up public transport, non-motorised transport and compact city planning, among other things.

The latest GBD results have been produced by a rigorous scientific process involving over 450 global experts and partner institutions, including the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the World Health Organisation, the University of Queensland, Australia, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and the Health Effects Institute.