New Delhi: Delhi, Kanpur and Varanasi are among the 14 most-polluted cities in the world, a new WHO report released on Wednesday said even as environment and health experts sounded an alarm about the severity of the problem, saying it is a grim reminder that air pollution is a national health crisis and India needs to do more to tackle it. However, reacting to the World Health Organisation report, the environment ministry said the government has made “serious” efforts to deal with air pollution and the 2017 air quality data for fine particulate matter particulate matter (PM) 2.5 has shown improvement over the previous year.
A cocktail of toxic factors, ranging from industrial waste to vehicular emissions and road dust, has put Delhi, Kanpur, Varanasi and Patna among others as the most-polluted spaces in the world. In terms of PM10 levels, eight cities in India also figure among the 20 most-polluted cities of the world in 2016.Other Indian cities that registered very high levels of PM2.5 pollutants were Kanpur, Faridabad, Gaya, Patna, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurugram, Jaipur, Patiala and Jodhpur followed by Ali Subah Al-Salem in Kuwait and a few cities in China and Mongolia.The WHO report states that Kanpur is the most-polluted in the world with an annual PM2.5 average of 173 micrograms per cubic metre (g/m3) and an annual PM10 (particulate matter of 10 micrometres or less in diametre) average of 319 (g/m3).
Similarly, the national capital ranked sixth in terms of PM 2.5 with an annual average of 143 g/m3 in 2016. In terms of PM10, Delhi stood third in the world with its annual average of 292 g/m3.In terms of PM2.5 in 2016, Varanasi was the third most-polluted city in the world with an annual average of 151 ug/m3. For PM10, Varanasi ranked the sixth most-polluted in the world.
The WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia, the report said.PM2.5 includes pollutants such as sulphates, nitrates and black carbon, which pose a great risk to human health.
The report, however, stated countries are making efforts and taking measures. In this context, it referred to India’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, saying in just two years, the scheme has provided 37 million women living below the poverty line with free LPG connections to support them to switch to clean household energy use.India targets to reach 80 million households by 2020.
The environment ministry sent out an official statement in the evening, saying the government has made “serious” efforts to fight air pollution and the 2017 air quality data for fine particulate matter PM2.5 has shown improvement over the previous year.
“It is noteworthy that almost one million vehicles are added on the roads of Delhi every year and in spite of increased construction activities and vehicular movement, air quality in Delhi is showing signs of improvement.”With similar intervention in other polluted cities and active participation of ULBs (urban local bodies) and state governments, air quality is expected to improve further,” the ministry said. It said, “The WHO report indicates that Delhi is placed at number six with an annual average PM2.5 concentration as 143 micrograms per cubic metre in 2016.
However, the government has made serious efforts to deal with air pollution.”Data for the year 2017 for PM2.5 shows an improvement over 2016 and so far in 2018, it shows a further improvement, as compared to 2017. The government has also taken several bold initiatives, including leap-frogging from BS-IV to BS-VI,” the ministry said. Environmental and health experts said that they also said this is a “dire warning” and aggressive national and state-level action is needed.
“The report by the WHO is a warning about the serious and run-away pollution and public health emergency that confronts India today, Sunita Narain, director general, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said Greenpeace India, meanwhile, said that the WHO data clearly shows that India needs to do more towards solving the air pollution crisis.”The WHO report clearly underplays the situation by mixing up data from many years. In reality, the situation in India is much worse,” Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner at Greenpeace India, said.
Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director and the head of its Right to Clean Air campaign, said, “This is yet another grim reminder that air pollution is a national health crisis.
We urgently need a strong legal framework for compliance with national air quality standards in all cities.” Reacting to the WHO report, Dr Vinay Aggarwal, former president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), said that a higher rate of morbidity and mortality is associated to ambient air pollution, he pointed out.”There is a rise in cases of respiratory and pulmonary ailments and in comparison to last year, there is a 45 per cent hike in asthma and COPD patients and 30 per cent rise in lung cancer. Cardiac ailments and stroke also has contributed a 28 per cent rise of morbidity,” he stated.