With an average of 98.6 Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) concentration, Delhi topped the list of most polluted capital cities in the world. 21 of the 30 most polluted cities in 2019 were from India. A recent report released by AirVisual, which monitors international air pollution, revealed the startling fact despite the government’s push to reduce air pollution.
While Ghaziabad topped the list of most polluted regional cities (110 PM2.5), India ranked sixth on the list of 98 countries in PM2.5 concentration behind Pakistan and Bangladesh. The majority of polluted cities and countries in the report are in the South Asia region, which includes 30 of the top 40 most polluted cities and four of the five most polluted countries.
“While pollution sources across the region vary, common contributors include transportation emissions, biomass burning for household cooking, open agricultural burning, industry, and coal combustion,” the report said.
Delhi experienced its longest period of hazardous air pollution during late October and early November 2019. The grim situation had forced the government to declare a public health emergency, temporarily ordering schools to close and construction activities to be stopped during the night.
Commenting on the World Air Quality Report 2019, Avinash Chanchal, Senior Campaigner at Greenpeace India said, “In Delhi, be it bypass roads, shutting down of Badarpur power plant, shifting the industries to PNG and BS-VI mandate have resulted in reduction of pollution levels on an annual average basis, supported by favorable meteorological conditions in 2019, but latest World Air Quality Report is an indication that the steps taken are not sufficient.”
The report highlighted the government’s actions in curbing air pollution with the launch of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to reduce PM2.5 and PM10 in 102 cities by 20-30 per cent by 2024 compared to 2017 levels. “While the long-term impacts of these activities are yet to be seen, India saw widespread improvements in PM2.5 levels in 2019, compared to 2018 as a result of economic slowdown, favorable meteorological conditions, as well as more dedicated efforts towards cleaning the air,” the report added.
Despite the efforts, India still leads the ranking of polluted cities with half of the 50 most polluted cities. Meanwhile, none of the Indian cities monitored for the report met the World Health Organisation (WHO) target for annual pollution exposure during 2019.
In her Budget speech on February 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said in Parliament: “For the thermal power plants which are old and whose carbon emission levels are high, we propose that utilities running them should be advised to close them...
The land so vacated could be put to an alternative use... In large cities with a population above one million, clean air is a matter of concern. The government proposes to encourage such states that are formulating and implementing plans to ensure cleaner air in cities above one million,” she added.
“While the Coronavirus is dominating international headlines, a silent killer is contributing to nearly 7 million more deaths a year, air pollution. The gap in air quality data in large parts of the world poses a serious problem, as what is not measured cannot be managed. Areas that lack air quality information are often estimated to have some of the world’s most severe air pollution, putting huge populations at risk. Growing public monitoring data globally presents an opportunity to empower citizens and governments to implement informed policies to improve air quality,” Frank Hammes, IQAir CEO said.