Bad and good news: While India ranks ninth in most polluted nations, it’s second in its use of renewable energy
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently released its 2016 data for the most polluted nations in the world. While Saudi Arabia tops the list with an air pollution level of 108 PM 2.5 (a measure of fine particulate matter that it too small to be seen, but can result in hazy conditions), India falls ninth on the list at 62 PM 2.5, just after Nepal. The safe limit of PM 2.5 is 60.
Delhi was recorded as the most polluted city between 2011 and 2015, and is most likely to retain that spot in 2016 primarily because of the thick blanket of smog that covered the city a day after Diwali last year. At the time, the level of PM2.5 pollutants, which are the most harmful because they can reach deep into the lungs and breach the blood-brain barrier, have reached at least 999 in parts of the city this week, more than 16 times the safe limit.
As per the latest urban air quality database, 98 per cent of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 1,00,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. However, in high-income countries, that percentage decreases to 56 per cent.
In the past two years, the database – now covering 3,000 cities in 103 countries – has nearly doubled, with more cities measuring air pollution levels and recognising the associated health impacts, says the WHO report.
“Air pollution is a major cause of disease and death. It is good news that more cities are stepping up to monitor air quality, so when they take actions to improve it they have a benchmark,” says Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant-Director General, Family, Women and Children’s Health. “When dirty air blankets our cities the most vulnerable urban populations—the youngest, oldest and poorest—are the most impacted.”
According to a graph provided by the World Health Organisation, Mumbai and Delhi, between the period of 2010 and 2015 had over 100 PM 2.5. Both cities owe their high levels of pollution to burning of garbage, over-population and vehicles. In 2012, Delhi had the maximum number of cars in the country at 7.35 million, followed by Bangalore (4.1 million), Chennai (3.7 million), Hyderabad (3.3 million) and Pune (2.2 million). Mumbai was sixth with a little over 2 million cars, but recorded the highest car density with 430 cars per kilometre of road.
The interesting bit is that while India stands ninth in the world’s most polluted nations, it is second only after China, to provide contributions to renewable energy. According to a report in Business Insider, the ranking here is in “tonnes of oil equivalent” or TOE — meaning renewable energy sources generated (and presumably replaced) the energy created by burning that many metric tonnes of oil in a year.
The increased use of indigenous renewable resources is expected to reduce India’s dependence on fossil fuels. India has an estimated renewable energy potential of about 900 GW from commercially exploitable sources viz. wind – 102 giga watts (GW) (at 80-metre mast height); small hydro – 20 GW; bioenergy – 25 GW; and 750 GW solar power, assuming 3 per cent wasteland, says a report by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.