IS AIR POL­LU­TION ON THE DE­CLINE IN IN­DIA?

While pol­lu­tion lev­els across some of the most pol­luted cities have im­proved in the past cou­ple of years, sev­eral new pol­lu­tion hot spots have emerged

Mint Asia ST - - News - BRY UKMINI S . In­dian cities dom­i­nated the WHO 2016 list of the most pol­luted cities glob­ally The WHO list: Then and now

In mid-novem­ber, dan­ger­ously high lev­els of par­tic­u­late mat­ter pushed Delhi’s air qual­ity in­dex into the or­ange “very poor” air zone, throw­ing Delhi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion into panic, with talk of bring­ing back re­stric­tions on pri­vate ve­hi­cles to com­bat the deadly air. Yet, through 2018, other cities in In­dia ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar deadly dips in their air qual­ity, rel­a­tively un­no­ticed: for in­stance, mid-fe­bru­ary in Ahmed­abad, through De­cem­ber in Ha­pur, late Novem­ber in Gaya, the air qual­ity should have war­ranted emer­gency mea­sures in th­ese cities.

As the New Year brings in both lethal air and hopes for greater ac­tion on air qual­ity in North In­dia, data for 2018 shows that sev­eral In­dian cities had worse lev­els of air pol­lu­tion in 2018 than the worst in the world. The good news, how­ever, is that par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM) lev­els have de­clined in most In­dian cities for which data is avail­able.

In 2016, the last year for which glob­ally com­pa­ra­ble data was avail­able, the top 13 spots for the most pol­luted cities in the world were taken up by In­dian cities, led by Kan­pur, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s (WHO’S) Am­bi­ent Air Qual­ity Data­base.

While 2018 was a bet­ter year for air qual­ity than 2016 and 2017, many of th­ese cities would still make the global list in 2018, if trends in the rest of the world re­mained un­changed, an anal­y­sis of Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (CPCB) data shows. (charts 1a and 1b).

Kan­pur, the world’s most pol­luted city in 2016, reg­is­tered a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in its par­tic­u­late mat­ter lev­els in 2018, as did the other In­dian cities in the WHO list, in­clud­ing Delhi.

How­ever, some of Delhi’s satel­lite cities for which data was not avail­able in 2016 reg­is­tered much higher air pol­lu­tion lev­els in 2018 than Kan­pur, Gaya or Delhi, cre­at­ing a new “worst in the world” record.

The in­dus­trial hub of Bhi­wadi in Ra­jasthan and Ghazi­abad in Ut­tar Pradesh, both part of the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion (NCR), were not mea­sured in 2016, but had among the high­est lev­els of par­tic­u­late mat­ter in 2018. Gu­ru­gram was one of the few cities to get worse be­tween 2016 and 2018.

While a range of pol­lu­tants found in the air have neg­a­tive im­pacts on hu­man health, this anal­y­sis fo­cuses on the level of PM2.5 and Pm10—tiny par­ti­cles of less than 2.5 and 10 mi­crons di­am­e­ter, re­spec­tively.

Th­ese tiny par­ti­cles are ca­pa­ble of pen­e­trat­ing the lungs and en­ter­ing their blood­stream at high con­cen­tra­tions.

Chronic ex­po­sure to th­ese par­ti­cles con­trib­utes to the risk of de­vel­op­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar and res­pi­ra­tory diseases, as well as of lung can­cer, ac­cord­ing to the WHO. The WHO con­sid­ers ex­po­sure to PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tions of un­der 10 mi­cro­gram per cu­bic me­tre an­nu­ally, and un­der 25 mi­cro­gram on av­er­age over an hour to be safe.

In­dia’s colour-coded air qual­ity in­dex con­sid­ers PM2.5 lev­els un­der 30 ug/m3 to be “g o o d ” a n d o v e r 9 0 t o b e p o o r. (bit.ly/2sucjqz)

Among cities for which con­sis­tent data was avail­able for 2018, four of the five worst cities in terms of PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tion lev­els are in NCR: Farid­abad (163.5), Ghazi­abad (141.9), Gu­ru­gram (132.1), and Bhi­wadi (127.5). Patna (117.7) and Muzaf­far­na­gar (116.7) fol­low close be­hind (chart 2).

While much of the me­dia, pol­icy and poli- tics de­bate around air pol­lu­tion fo­cuses on Delhi, the prob­lem is equally bad in Delhi’s satel­lites and even be­yond.

The north­ern cities are par­tic­u­larly badly af­fected. Sev­eral cities in this belt—gaya, Muzaf­farpur, Patna, Varanasi, Jodh­pur—apart from Delhi’s satel­lites had lev­els of PM2.5 con­cen­tra­tion this year that would have put them among the 20 worst cities of the world An­nual av­er­age PM 2.5 lev­els in 2018 in 2016. Un­sur­pris­ingly, North In­dia is also the epi­cen­tre of pol­lu­tion-re­lated ail­ments and deaths.

Last year, 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple lost their lives to pol­lu­tion, ac­cord­ing to re­search by the In­dia State-level Dis­ease Bur­den Ini­tia­tive pub­lished in The Lancet Plan­e­tary Health (bit.ly/2f0yart). The study es­ti­mated that the high­est PM2.5 ex­po­sure level was in Delhi, fol­lowed by the other North In­dian states of Ut­tar Pradesh, Bi­har and Haryana (chart 3).

One out of ev­ery seven deaths in In­dia was at­trib­ut­able to air pol­lu­tion, and air pol­lu­tion low­ered In­dian life ex­pectancy by 1.7 years, the study showed. Although there is some dis­pute over its rel­a­tive share (bit.ly/2f3hc5k), ve­hic­u­lar pol­lu­tion is un­doubt­edly an im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor to air pol­lu­tion. Con­struc­tion and stub­ble burn­ing seem to be the other big cul­prits in the North In­dian belt.

Delhi’s odd-even scheme to re­duce ve­hi­cles on its roads may not have had much of an im­pact but a se­ries of clear-air fo­cussed pol­icy ini­tia­tives may fi­nally be hav­ing some ef­fect, an anal­y­sis of long-run pol­lu­tion trends based on satel­lite im­agery showed (bit.ly/2srqbqp).

De­spite dan­ger­ously high lev­els of par­tic­u­late mat­ter in other cities, no city other than Delhi has taken gov­ern­ment-level ac­tion on air pol­lu­tion so far.

One rea­son may be that the scale of the prob­lem in the rest of the coun­try is much less un­der­stood than it is in Delhi. The cap­i­tal alone has 38 func­tional mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions, as many as 11 other states put to­gether. In com­par­i­son, Mum­bai, the next big­gest city, has just one mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion. More­over, there are se­ri­ous col­lec­tion and data in­tegrity prob­lems with the re­ported CPCB (Cen­tral Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board) data, which per­haps mask the real ex­tent of the coun­try-wide bad air prob­lem.

Ruk­mini S. is a Chen­nai-based jour­nal­ist.

AFP

Peak lev­els: Some of Delhi’s satel­lite cities, for which data was not avail­able in 2016, reg­is­tered much higher air pol­lu­tion lev­els in 2018 than the na­tional cap­i­tal, cre­at­ing a new ‘worst in world’ record.

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