In just one year, ozone pollution in India caused the loss of enough crops to feed 94 million people that are living below the poverty line, according to a new study.
Studying data from 2005, scientists concluded that in that year alone, ozone pollution killed 6 million tonnes of wheat, soybean and rice crops – enough to have fed around a third of the country’s poor.
Although ozone is essential in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere, at ground level it can be harmful. Ground level ozone is not emitted directly into the air but is created by chemical reactions, and comes from sources such as vehicles and industrial plants.
Rising emissions owing to rapid industrial development has left India with one of the world’s most severe pollution crises, with some cities, including New Delhi, choking in the worst air in the world.
Alongside its negative impacts on human health, ground level ozone can also devastate crops by causing damage to leaves and stunting plants’ growth.
Altogether, scientists estimate that in 2005, this caused the loss of almost $1.3 billion (£800m) worth of India’s staple crops.
Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the University of California, a co-author of the study, admitted that he was “surprised” by the sheer scale of the damage.
To curb the damage, Ramanathan and his colleagues have called for the introduction of new emissions standards to protect crops from ozone, as none currently exist.
Previous studies have warned that crop production around the world may be hit by increasing emissions in the coming decades, making it harder to feed a rapidly rising global population expected to reach 9 billion by the mid-century.
The UN has estimated that the world will need to produce 70% more food to meet demands in 2050.