Kolkata: A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has finally confirmed that Kolkata is the second-most polluted metropolis in the country, next only to Delhi. The study revealed another alarming trend Kolkata’s air quality is declining faster than Delhi’s.
According to TOI report the latest WHO database of more than 4,000 cities across 100 countries for the year 2016 was released on Wednesday at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva. It painted a grim picture for the city. In 2015, the annual mean of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter that leads to high plaque deposits in arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems) of Kolkata was 52µg/m³ (microgram per cubic metre), which climbed to 74µg/m³ in 2016. Significantly, according to WHO, the safe limit of annual mean PM2.5 is 10µg/m³, but by India’s standards, it is 40µg/m³. Alarmingly, the annual mean of PM2.5 in Kolkata is 7 times higher than the global safe limit. According to environmentalists, Kolkata’s air quality is now even worse than what the WHO figures suggest.
In 2017, the city’s pollution rose faster than ever before because of an exponential growth in the number of vehcles, construction activities and biomass burning, three key causes of air pollution. “The WHO report is a clarion call for all of us to wake from our slumber and do something drastic to improve the city’s air quality,” said environmentalist Subhas Datta, who has kept pricking the conscience of the city by his numerous litigations in the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
Even in terms of PM10 (far bigger and coarser particulate matter) count, the degradation of the city’s air has been quite steep. In 2015, the annual mean of PM10 count was 95µg/m³, whereas it jumped to 136µg/m³ in 2016. The safe limit, according to WHO, for annual mean of PM10 is 20µg/m³. That, too, has had to be increased to an “Indian” safe standard: 60µg/m³.
Kanpur, however, topped the 2016 list with a PM2.5 concentration of 173µg/m³, followed by Faridabad, Varanasi and Gaya. Ironically, as India’s air pollution monitoring network improved in the past few years with more cities being monitored, the number of Indian cities in the top polluters’ list also zoomed.
“There is no point in being complacent from the fact that Kolkata is better than the worst polluted cities in India,” said city-based environmental activist Somendra Mohan Ghosh. “We are in a thickly populated city, where the impact of the degradation is far worse. Kolkata accounts for the highest number of lung cancer cases. The rate of degradation is steeper than most metros and attempts to check pollution are scarce,” he added.
The WHO report pointed out that 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. “Updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution. Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths,” it said.
Air pollution is mainly responsible for non-communicable diseases, said the report, causing an about a quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.
“While Delhi is at a crossroads and is expected to change for the better post-2016, other pollution hot spots, including Kolkata, are proliferating across the country,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment. “This is a national public health crisis and the newly proposed national clean air action plan has to ensure stringent action in all cities to comply with clean air standards,” Chowdhury added.