Seven of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world are in India, according to a new study showing South Asia’s battle with deteriorating air quality and the economic toll it’s expected to take worldwide. India’s national capital region (NCR) emerged as the most polluted region in the world in 2018, a new pollution report says, with Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Noida, and Bhiwadi in the top six worst-affected cities.
Gurugram, located southwest of India’s capital New Delhi, led all cities in pollution levels in 2018, even as its score improved from the previous year, according to data released by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace. Three other Indian cities joined Faisalabad, Pakistan, in the top five.
The index measures the presence of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, a pollutant that can fester deep in the lungs and bloodstream of human beings.
“This has enormous impacts, on our health and on our wallets,” Yeb Sano, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement released with the figures. “In addition to human lives lost, there’s an estimated cost of $225 billion in lost labor, and trillions in medical costs.”
India, the world’s fastest-growing major economy, makes up 22 of the top 30 most polluted cities, with five in China, two in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh. India racks up health-care costs and productivity losses from pollution of as much as 8.5 percent of gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.
China made marked progress in its usually dismal pollution levels, with average concentrations falling by 12 percent in 2018 from the previous year, according to the data. That should help the message President Xi Jinping will share with political party leaders on progress across three so-called ” critical battles” during the National People’s Congress meetings that start this week.
“China’s skies remain gray but progress is impressive,” the report said.
“Average concentrations in the cities in China fell by 12% from 2017 to 2018. Beijing ranks now as the 122nd most polluted city in the world, according to the AirVisual dataset, with PM2.5 levels falling more than 40% since 2013. If Beijing’s PM2.5 concentration had stayed at 2013 level, the city would rank as the 21st on the list in 2018,” it added.
There are only two Chinese cities now in the top 20 most polluted, Hotan and Kashgar, both in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwest China.
“Out of the over 3000 cities included, 64% exceeded the WHO’s annual exposure guideline (10μg/m3) for fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5. Every single one of measured cities with data in the Middle East and Africa exceeded this guideline, while 99% of cities in South Asia, 95% of cities in Southeast Asia and 89% of cities in East Asia also exceed this level. As many areas lack up-to-date public air quality information and are for this reason not represented in this report, the total number of cities exceeding the WHO PM2.5 threshold is expected to be far higher,” the report said.
“The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) recently launched by Ministry of Environment and Forest in India seems to be improving on the data availability and transparency among other things which is another key aspect which helped Beijing fight the battle to reduce air pollution levels,” said Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner, Climate & Energy, Greenpeace India.
India should also set pollution/emission reduction targets and consumption caps on polluting fuels such as coal, diesel in polluted geographies aiming at emission load reduction, Dahiya added.
“Adopt a regional and air-shed approach while targeting aggressive pollution reduction for polluted cities.”
The NCAP is a programme in the form of a report launched by the ministry of environment and forest (MOEF&CC) on January 10, 2019.
“This NCAP aims to reduce pollution levels by 20-30% till 2024 compared to 2017 levels in 102 non-attainment cities (identified by CPCB, Central Pollution Control Board based on older data till 2015),” Dahiya said.
The report identified some of the major sources or causes of ambient air pollution.
“Industries, households, cars, and trucks emit complex mixtures of air pollutants, many of which are harmful to health. Of all of these pollutants, fine particulate matter has the greatest effect on human health,” it said.
“Most fine particulate matter comes from fuel combustion, both from mobile sources such as vehicles and from stationary sources such as power plants, industry, households, agriculture or biomass burning,” the report added.
“Air pollution steals our livelihoods and our futures, but we can change that. In addition to human lives lost, there’s an estimated global cost of 225 billion dollars in lost labour, and trillions in medical costs. This has enormous impacts, on our health and on our wallets,” executive director of Greenpeace South East Asia, Yeb Sano, said
“We want this report to make people think about the air we breathe because when we understand the impacts of air quality on our lives, we will act to protect what’s most important.”