air pollution in India


A recent report highlights a sobering reality: only seven nations adhere to the World Health Organisation’s air quality standards, with air pollution worsening in various regions due to economic rebounds and the pernicious effects of wildfire smoke.

Out of 134 countries and regions scrutinised, merely Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius, and New Zealand comply with WHO guidelines for PM2.5, minuscule airborne particles emitted by vehicles, industries, and other sources. PM2.5 poses significant health risks, capable of causing various ailments and fatalities when inhaled.

Despite overall improvements in global air quality compared to previous centuries, pockets of perilous pollution persist.

Pakistan, the most polluted nation, exhibits PM2.5 levels exceeding the WHO standard by over 14 times, with India, Tajikistan, and Burkina Faso following suit. Notably, Canada’s air quality suffered a setback, propelled by unprecedented wildfires that engulfed the country, dispersing toxic smoke across borders.

China’s strides in air quality improvement faced setbacks amid post-pandemic economic resurgence, leading to a 6.5% rise in PM2.5 levels.

“Unfortunately things have gone backwards,” said Glory Dolphin Hammes, North America chief executive of IQAir. “The science is pretty clear about the impacts of air pollution and yet we are so accustomed to having a background level of pollution that’s too high to be healthy. We are not making adjustments fast enough.”

Tragically, air pollution claims an estimated 7 million lives annually, surpassing the combined toll of AIDS and malaria, disproportionately affecting developing countries reliant on unclean fuels for essential needs.

Begusarai, India, clinched the ignoble title of the world’s most polluted urban area in the latest report, underscoring India’s prominence with four cities ranking highest in pollution levels. Yet, many developing nations, particularly in Africa, lack robust air quality monitoring systems.

In response to escalating health risks, the WHO revised its PM2.5 safety threshold to five micrograms per cubic meter in 2021. However, several countries, including parts of Europe, still fall short. Moreover, recent research by US scientists underscores the absence of a safe threshold for PM2.5, with even minimal exposure correlating with increased hospitalisations for cardiovascular and respiratory ailments.

Addressing this crisis demands multifaceted strategies. Encouraging pedestrian-friendly urban environments, reducing reliance on automobiles, and implementing forestry practices to mitigate wildfire impacts are crucial steps. Simultaneously, expediting the transition to clean energy sources over fossil fuels is imperative.

“We share the atmospheric envelope with everyone else in the world and we need to make sure we are not doing things that harm those elsewhere,” Hammes said.

Aidan Farrow, a senior air quality scientist at Greenpeace International, emphasises the urgency of enhanced air quality monitoring. Heightened surveillance can facilitate informed policymaking and prompt interventions to safeguard public health.

“In 2023 air pollution remained a global health catastrophe, IQAir’s global data set provides an important reminder of the resulting injustices and the need to implement the many solutions that exist to this problem,” he said.



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