New Delhi: India once again tops the annual list of cities with the worst air quality in the world. According to the new report 2019 World Air Quality Report, Ghaziabad at No 1 is world’s most polluted cities followed by Delhi which is at rank 5, Noida at 6, Gurugram at 7, Greater Noida at 9 (all come under the National Capital Region – NCR) and Bhandwari at 10. Not just that, the global ranking compiled by IQAir AirVisual’s, an organisation that empowers citizens through accessible technology to understand their environments and take control, lists out world’s 30 most polluted cities of which 21 are in India.
PM2.5 is known as a highly toxic particulate matter which is 2.5 microns wide, or a fraction of the diametre of human hair; being microscopic, it beats the body’s defence mechanism and makes its way into various organs leading to diseases like lung cancer, strokes, heart diseases, among others.
In the latest rankings, though India still remains in the top five nations with the worst air pollution, its rank is down two notches from third to the fifth position from previous year’s report. New Delhi remains the most polluted capital of the world and it shot up in the ranking to 5, up six places.
On the other hand, this year, Gurugram has not been titled as world’s most polluted cities like the past two years. This year the top slot has been taken by Ghaziabad in western Uttar Pradesh city bordering Delhi. Its annual level of PM2.5 is 110 microgram per cubic metre, 11 times the safe limit prescribed by the World Health Organization. Uttar Pradesh largely dominates the global top 30 list, Ghaziabad being number 1 and Moradabad being number 30 and in between is the state capital Lucknow.
The report also said that Beijing — once infamous for air pollution crisis – has reduced smog levels and dropped further down in list of the world’s most polluted cities, falling to 199 from 84 three years before. In contrast, India still dominated the list of smoggiest urban areas. Despite government’s push to curb Air Pollution in the country in past years with National Clean Air Programme), which was launched in 2019 with its coverage in 122 cities with a target to cut air pollution by up to 30 per cent by 2024 and an ambitious drive to launch more and more electric vehicles in the country.
The report stated that India’s air quality index exceeded the World Health Organization’s target for annual PM2.5 exposure by a staggering 500 per cent. The World Health Organization estimates that dirty air kills around 7 million people each year, while the World Bank says it drains the global economy of $5 trillion annually.
The report further said that the national air pollution decreased by 20 per cent from 2018 to 2019, with 98 per cent of cities experiencing improvements, but these improvements are believed to be largely a result of economic slow-down.
Talking about the report findings, Yann Boquillod, AirVisual’s director of air quality monitoring said,
In Beijing, air pollution has been a top priority; when the pollution affects the city government to put the resources in to tackle the crisis. The capital has a four-tier warning system for severe weather conditions with red being the most serious, followed by orange, yellow and blue. In between these alerts, severe actions are automatically taken. In contrast in India, Air Pollution has recently become a topic of discussion. What we need to do is put more pressure on the government and build on the movement.
Talking about the way forward for India in terms of Air Pollution, Sunita Narain, Director General of CSE adds,
What India needs is a zero-emission mandate plan on priority. In Beijing, the industries have moved from coal to gas which has been able to put a dent in the air pollution scenario in the city.
Ms. Narain also said that public transports like buses should be pushed in our country and asked other cities to regulate and reform the movement of trucks in the city by building bypasses and expressways so that pollution across the country can be cured.
On the other hand, Niraj Bhatt, Researcher – Environment and Climate Change at Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG) talked about NCAP and said,
There are certain loopholes in the NCAP approach like there is no legal binding. Nobody can do anything if someone does not adhere to the action plan. There is no accountability. Moreover, the programme misses the health aspect of air pollution. Health improvement should be one of the targets in the plan made under NCAP.