Air pollution india tops world in bad air quality kanpur, delhi among top 15, mumbai 4th most polluted megacity gaston y la agrupacion santa fe

The report states that 9 in 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. In a statement, it said 7 million people die every year because of outdoor and household air pollution. “Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period,” it said.

WHO highlighted that air pollution is mainly responsible for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.

The organisation stressed that although its report provides air quality data from more than 4,300 cities and towns in 108 countries, there was an unevenness in the information received, with a dire lack of data from Africa and parts of the Western Pacific region. Only eight of the 47 countries in Africa provided air quality information about one or more of their cities. And while the database listed information on 181 Indian cities, it provided data for only nine Chinese cities.

The WHO’s collected annual mean concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) includes pollutants, such as sulphate, nitrates and black carbon, which pose the greatest risks to human health. Major sources of air pollution from particulate matter include the inefficient use of energy by households, industry, the agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants. In some regions, sand and desert dust, waste burning and deforestation are additional sources of air pollution.

The data source for Delhi is mainly from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) (about 10 stations), although for the years 2015 and 2016 WHO also considered data from ministry of earth sciences (MoES) and US Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Now. This may have also influenced the air pollution concentrations for 2015 and 2016, experts said.

“With improved air quality monitoring, we are beginning to understand the depth and spread of the air pollution problem in India. While Delhi is at the crossroads and is expected to bend the curve post 2016, other pollution hot spots are proliferating across the country,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

In 2010, Delhi was the worst polluted city globally followed by Peshawar and Rawalpindi. Agra was the only other Indian city in the top 10 polluted (PM 2.5) cities, in 2011 too Delhi and Agra were the only two Indian cities and Ulaanbaatar was the worst.

But this started changing 2012 onward when 14 out of top 20 most polluted were in India. In 2013, 2014 and 2015 too, four to seven Indian cities were in top 20. But in the 2016 data released on Wednesday, 14 out of 15 most polluted are in India.

A number of policies came into effect towards the end of 2016 – the graded response action plan (GRAP) in October, doubling of the environment compensation charge (ECC) on trucks in December 2015 and better coordination among NCR states on pollution control.

Experts are not sure what may have led to a sudden spike in Delhi’s pollution levels in 2015 and 2016. “In 2015 and 2016, there were northwesterly winds in the crop burning season which brought particulate pollution from neighbouring states. These meteorological factors may have also accentuated air pollution in Delhi," said Dipankar Saha, former CPCB air lab head.

Delhi and Beijing are often compared due to their high air pollution levels and policies like the odd-even road rationing measure or air pollution emergency action plan. However, WHO’s recent data shows that Beijing’s air pollution levels have been consistently reducing 2013 onwards.

In 2016, Beijing’s PM 2.5 concentration was 73 micrograms per cubic metre compared to Delhi’s 143. “There are cities that have seen a decrease in PM2.5 level, Beijing and Mexico, if you look at the data. China has put a number of measures since 2013, from a National Action Plan of Air pollution Control, enforcement of environmental standards etc,” WHO said, responding to TOI’s questionnaire.

Mumbai’s air pollution is nearly as bad as Beijing’s, but the city is not paying the required attention to this problem and that is alarming. It is time Mumbai woke up to the situation and took responsibility and react with the sort of urgency Bejing has reacted and how even Delhi is preparing to respond to its growing pollution,” said Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner, Greenpeace.

Quite a few factors contribute to Mumbai’s high air pollution levels. “Construction activity accounts for about 30% of dust particles, followed by vehicular emissions. In addition, open burning of garbage occurs in the city, adding to pollution,” said Rakesh Kumar, director, National Environmental Engineering and Research Institute (NEERI).

“Nevertheless, the Indian subcontinent cannot be directly compared with other regions of the world. Being in a tropical country, Indian cities have a lot of background pollutants like natural dust. This is why Indian cities have recorded higher level of pollutants (on the WHO list).”

In Maharashtra, polluted cities include Pune, Navi Mumbai and Nagpur (not in that order). For Mumbai, WHO used data provided by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board from its monitoring stations in Sion and Bandra and monitoring stations by System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR).