Delhi air pollution: SAFAR’s advice can save people Rs 7,694 crore annually on medical costs



NEW DELHI: People suffering from air pollution-related ailments in Delhi can save up to Rs 7,694 crore on health expenditure annually if they follow the advisories of the government’s air quality forecast agency SAFAR, according to a new study.

Likewise, people afflicted by air pollution in Pune, which sees relatively better air quality, can save up to Rs 948 crore on medical expenditure.

Even if five per cent of the total population suffering from air pollution-related ailments in Delhi follow SAFAR advisory, it can translate into an annual saving of Rs 1,096 crore on health expenditure, the research said.

Launched in 2010, the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ ‘System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research’ (SAFAR) provides location-specific information on air quality in near real-time and its forecast one to three days in advance in four major Indian cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad.

On bad air days, SAFAR issues health advisories, asking people people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children to avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.

It also asks people to go for shorter walks instead of jogs and wearing masks while stepping outside. The SAFAR team comprising Suvarna Tikle, Ishika Ilme, and Prof.

Gufran Beig authored the research paper titled ‘Impact of SAFAR Air Quality Forecasting Framework and Advisory Services in Reducing the Economic Health Burden of India’ in the international journal ‘Regional Economic Development Research’.

“Our findings support the idea that public knowledge and early warning remain critical components of health and economic growth.

SAFAR is credited with saving 11-14 per cent of total money spent by residents afflicted by air pollution, according to this research,” said Prof Beig.

“If a person with asthma steps outside home unaware of the air pollution situation and without the kit, it could land him in the ICU. So, this is how important the advisory is. It can save lives and cut medical expenditure drastically,” the scientist said. The cost-savings in pulmonary diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and other associated ailments linked to air pollution have been considered in this study.

The annual average cost of all air pollution-related ailments in Delhi and Pune is Rs 7,694 crore and Rs 948 crore, respectively, the study report said.

OPD treatment of allergic rhinitis costs the highest (Rs 1,449 crore), followed by asthma (Rs 1,001 crore), and COPD (Rs 514 crore) in Delhi, all of which have grown significantly over time, it said.

“If we can raise awareness among 5 to 10 per cent of the population and get more people to take measures based on SAFAR’s three-day early warning system on bad air quality days, the benefit would increase to Rs 2,192 crore in Delhi and Rs 200 crore in Pune in a year,” said Beig.

The study gains importance as economic implications are crucial for the societal acceptance of mitigation action and designing and enforcing abatement policy measures, the authors said.

As air pollution also affects many other sectors such as agriculture, aviation, infrastructure, tourism, there is a need to understand the benefits associated with these sectors in the future, they said.

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