Home to 39 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities, the country’s clean air ambitions suffer from a lack of funding and political paralysis
A new world air quality report illustrates a growing disparity between people in the wealthiest cities and those in developing and least developed countries over the past year.
The report was released by Swiss company IQAir, an air quality technology company specializing in protection against air pollutants, the development of air quality monitoring and air purification products. ‘air. The annual survey used 30,000 ground-level sensors in more than 7,000 cities in more than 130 countries around the world. Researchers measured the concentration of fine particles with a diameter of up to 2.5 microns, known as PM2.5, which are considered one of the most dangerous pollutants because they can enter traffic blood. To compile the rankings in the report, the data was averaged over the year and weighted by the population of the country or city.
New Delhi in India and Baghdad in Iraq were among the three most polluted capitals, where pollutants were considered around 18 times higher than those of the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. N’Djamena, the capital of the landlocked African nation of Chad and one of the world’s poorest countries, was the most polluted, taking the dubious distinction from New Delhi, which had held it for many years before. The report attributed the massive Sahara Desert dust storms as the main cause for the rise in PM2.5 concentrations in the city.
Indians breathe toxic air
Alarmingly, 39 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities are in India, which ranks eighth on the list after Chad, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso and Kuwait.
One of the indicative ratings used by IQAir is the Air Quality Index (AQI) is a method used by government agencies to measure and predict local levels of air pollution. The IQAir website provides real time trackers of the AQI in many cities, with several localities in India consistently posting an AQI above 160. Anything above 150 is considered “unhealthy” according to widely accepted benchmarks.
India’s own standards are extremely weak by comparison. India’s Air Quality and Weather Research and Forecasting System (SAFAR), which measures the country’s air pollution level for the Federal Ministry of Earth Sciences, considers any AQI between 101 and 200 to be moderate, which goes against global standards.
IQAir’s report laid bare India’s growing pollution problems. As of 2021, 12 of the 15 most polluted cities in Central and South Asia were in India. Bhiwadi in the northern state of Haryana was the most polluted city in the country. To make matters worse, 60% of Indian cities included in the report recorded toxic air levels more than seven times higher than WHO standards.
Asia’s Other Big Polluters
Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, reported the second-worst air quality among Southeast Asian capitals and was ranked 18th globally. Deteriorating air quality in Hanoi has been attributed to unplanned industrial expansion in the country, which is one of the fastest growing economies in the region. Vietnam’s 8.02% growth last year reflects moves by several multinational corporations to shift their Asian base from China’s economic powerhouse.
Among the countries in the Middle East, known to produce massive amounts of greenhouse gases, several cities also appear in the annual list. Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Doha – the capitals of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, respectively – reported a significant drop in their air quality last year and were ranked among the top 20 capitals the most polluted in the world.
Wealth inequality is in the air
According to the WHO, approximately 99% of the world’s population faces health risks from breathing poor air quality. estimates. However, as the charts in the IQAir report show, wealthier developed countries are suffering from this trend to a lesser extent as they conform to stricter WHO standards and increasingly employable and clean energy. The only places that meet WHO clean air standards are usually those with sparse populations, low industrialization per capita, and easy access to renewable energy such as wind and solar. These include Australia, New Zealand, Estonia and Finland, as well as overseas territories such as American Guam, British Bermuda and French Polynesia.
WHO data suggests poor air quality leads to seven million preventable deaths a year, while the World Bank cites an economic cost of $8 trillion, more than 6.1% of the product global annual gross domestic (GDP).
China’s impressive turnaround
China has been the biggest success story when it comes to tackling air pollution. Over the past seven years, Asia’s largest economy has consistently cracked down on polluting industries with a focus on renewable energy and electric vehicles. The Covid-19 shutdowns have also led to a decline in economic activity, in turn reducing air pollution.
“In 2023, it remains to be seen whether China can further reduce air pollution, or whether the pressure of increased economic activity leads to stagnation or an increase in air pollution,” said IQAir CEO Frank Hammes.
Is India a hopeless case?
India is grappling with unprecedented pollution problems due to toxic emissions from its coal-fired power plants, pollution from vehicles, industrial emissions and the burning of wood and dirty fuels for cooking and heating . The last two are the characteristic ills of a developing country. According to various estimates, more than a million dead in India can be attributed to air pollution each year, including associated health risks such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is well aware of the alarming negative effects of air pollution. In January 2019, the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) was launched as a flagship program for better air quality in 122 (later expanded to 131) cities across the country. It assesses the scientific, legislative, financial and institutional framework of the 102 publicly available air quality action plans submitted under the NCAP. Its main initial goal was to reduce the concentration of PM2.5 in these cities by at least 20% by 2024.
Although the program aims to expand the national air quality monitoring network, the main obstacles are a lack of public awareness and credible data due to several technical and logistical challenges. The government has also failed to take punitive action against polluting industries associated with a shortage of funds.
The allocation of $91.17 million — a 64% spike over last year — for NCAP in this year’s federal budget appears to be a case of too little, too late, as its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions of here 2070 is far behind that of several other countries.
India urgently needs massive technological investment and capacity building, which is conspicuous by its absence. Moreover, the Indian government has yet to demonstrate its political will to make NCAP a priority.
Last year, the NCAP target for particulate matter concentration in impacted cities was revised down by 40% and the deadline was extended to 2025-26. But even that is far from enough. Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at the Center for Science and Environment, a non-profit organization based in New Delhi, rightly pointed out:
“It was a misnomer to differentiate between NCAP cities and non-NCAP cities. When we analyze data for all cities for which air quality data is available, we actually don’t have data for many cities in India today. We find that there is very little difference in pollution levels between NCAP and non-NCAP cities, which underscores the fact that air pollution is a national crisis and that we need to take a much bigger view off this problem. What we also found is that if you compare NCAP and non-NCAP cities, the levels they have, almost both of them, especially North India, require a reduction target of about 50% or more to be able to meet air quality standards. »
On the occasion of NCAP’s fourth anniversary, a report was released, which showed that most cities were lagging behind their targets. Only 49 of 131 cities have improved their air quality, and of these, only 38 have met their pollution reduction targets for 2022. In others, the situation has only gotten worse.
Indian experts have consistently cited the Chinese model as an example to follow. However, comparisons are hardly appropriate, as India’s anti-pollution budget is orders of magnitude smaller than China’s. For example, the staggering sum of $120 billion was allocated to fight pollution in the Beijing region in 2018 alone. Moreover, India’s democratic values and misplaced priorities lack the resolute dedication of the one-party Chinese communist regime. Beijing began addressing the crisis in 2012 and rolled out a five-year plan and a 25% pollution reduction target. Conversely, India lacks both “top-down policy and bottom-up preparedness” and suffers from a widening gap between goals and achievements. Overall, India is a far to find sustainable solutions to reduce the burden and leave behind a cleaner and safer planet.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.