The Health Effects Institute did extensive research conducted across 175 countries and found that India and China face the deadliest air pollution in the world.
Beijing and Delhi are two of the worst cities in terms of pollution, but on one hand, Beijing has a well-defined measure to battle the smog, Delhi is far from formalising one.
In India, rapid industrialisation and population growth have adversely affected urban climates, particularly air quality, and caused imbalances in the regional climate at large.
As per a study conducted by the World Health Organization, half of world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India. According to a recent report by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, India tops the world in pollution-related deaths, accounting for 2.5 million of the total 9 million deaths attributed to pollution worldwide in 2015.
China was second on the list, with 1.8 million total fatalities due to pollution. According to the WHO, PM 2.5 levels should not exceed 25 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24-hour period and 10 micrograms per cubic meter on average over a year. But in cities like Delhi and Beijing, there are days when PM 2.5 levels surge to almost 1,000, which is so high that it’s literally off the scales of many pollution monitoring devices.
PM 2.5 refers to fine particulate matter — microscopic particles that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, minuscule enough to be absorbed right into the lungs and blood. Sustained exposure to high levels of PM 2.5 can cause respiratory diseases like bronchitis, asthma and inflammation of the lungs, and even heart attacks and strokes. There are several reasons for the alarming increase in air pollution.
The total vehicles sold in India have increased by over 273 percent since 2000. The exposure to vehicle exhaust has led to a significant increase in respiratory symptoms, cancer, and lung function impairments. Unfortunately, India has yet to come out with a definite roadmap for setting emission standards throughout the country.
In India, the air pollution has gone beyond safe exposure levels and, in some of Indian cities, has led to a steep increase in premature deaths. Infact it is estimated that close to 3000 premature deaths happens in Delhi because of pollution.
China has recorded the highest number of deaths as a result of pollution, but by declaring air pollution a national disaster they have taken several steps to control the damage. China has thus been able to reduce the death rate by 2 percent. However, in India, over the same period, deaths have gone up by 1.4 percent. China has also taken measures to restrict traffic flow during periods of heavy pollution. This, coupled with cloud seeding for clearing the smog, especially in Beijing, has had an impact.
The challenge before India, as compared to China, is more complex, as it is still in the nascent stage of industrialization. It will be a real challenge to emulate China, which is facing the problem of excess capacity in the steel and cement industries. Moreover, like China, India depends on cheap coal for power generation, and it is years away from switching completely to renewable energy. If proper steps are taken, India, like China, will succeed in controlling air pollution by keeping the Air Quality Index below 100, which fall under the moderate level of health concerns. These steps will help India to realize its environmental and social responsibilities.