India accounts for two-thirds of the 30 most polluted cities in the world, but pollution can’t be fought by these cities alone.
The 2019 World Air Quality Report, which analyses the state of particulate pollution caused by PM2.5 in cities globally, has dire news for India. Twenty-one of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India, while Delhi is the most polluted capital in the world. PM2.5 pollution is especially dangerous since the pollutant makes its way into our respiratory system in a much easier manner than most other pollutants—92% of the world breathes air made toxic by PM2.5 pollutants, a major cause of death among children under the age of 15 years. Southeast Asia, South and West Asia face the worst burden of PM2.5 pollution—only six cities from these regions meet the WHO’s annual pollution targets.
PM2.5 is a major concern since it accounts for nearly a third of the deaths globally from lung cancer, almost a quarter of the deaths from stroke, and 43% of all incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. The report has a spot of cheer for India—overall air pollution decreased by 20% from 2018 to 2019. This is due to the current economic slowdown and favourable meteorological conditions rather than any actual effort to curb air pollution. However, India’s National Air Clean programme—which aims to reduce PM2.5 and PM10 in 102 cities by 20-30% by 2024 as compared to 2017 levels—is a step forward. While a lot needs to be done in the cities facing unhealthy to hazardous levels of air quality, the fact is that action against pollution has to be made in a concerted manner. A Delhi installing devices to filter out pollutants from the ambient air, or mandating cleaner fuel for mass transport won’t really help as long as Punjab keeps burning stubble and Uttar Pradesh doesn’t clamp down on construction dust and use of adulterated fuel in transport in tier-II cities that abut the national capital.