New Delhi: After a World Health Organisation’s (WHO) report listed 14 Indian cities among the Top 20 of the world’s most polluted cities with respect to particulate matter (PM) 2.5 concentration, environment and health experts feel that this is yet another grim reminder that air pollution is a national health crisis and India needs to do more to tackle it. The WHO’s database of more than 4,300 cities showed cities like New Delhi, Varanasi and Kanpur were among the most polluted, based on the amount of particulate matter under 2.5 micrograms found in every cubic metre of air. WHO also suggested that India should follow China’s example and clean up the air in its cities, which are among the world’s worst for outdoor pollution.
There is a big step at the government level (in China) declaring war on air pollution. One of the reasons for that is that the health argument was very strongly presented, and the fact that the citizens were really breathing air that was totally unacceptable, says Maria Neira, WHO’s Head of public health.
We would be very happy if we would see a similar movement now in India which is one of the countries for which we are particularly concerned, she adds.
Speaking to NDTV, Environmentalist Sunita Narain, who heads the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said,
In 2013, India had three cities that had the tag of being most polluted cities of the world, while, China that time had 16 cities, including Beijing. Now, as per the new report by WHO, China has just three cities in that category and India has 14 cities. China has definitely has got clean air act together, and if we follow their footsteps, we too can make our air clean.
Explaining the steps being followed by China, Sunita Narain added,
There are three things China has done, one, China has massively moved its industry out of coal into gas. It has mercilessly shut down coal industries including thermal power plants. Secondly, China has drastically improved its emission standards and has enforced it well. In India, we brought very good emission standards in the year 2015, but the ministry of environment and forest has asked that they need five more years to implement it. So, the issue here is the actions are not being taken aggressively. Thirdly, China has made pollution an offence and has improved their monitoring system severely. Again, in India, the actions are not being taken properly by the authorities.
Commenting on the risk factor, Dr Vivek Nangia, Director & Head of Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital said,
Air pollution is the silent killer, it is the most hazardous environment risk factor that is today killing people. According to this WHO report, in 2016, more than 7 million people died globally. Out of which 90% were from lower or middle-income group. In yet another report, the Lancet report, which was published last year according to the database of 2015, it was highlighted that more than 9 million people died due to air pollution globally out of which 2.5 million deaths were from India alone. That’s the huge quantum we are looking at – 2.5 million deaths it is way more than deaths due to TB, HIV, and Malaria and even all put together. We have national programmes for these three diseases but unfortunately we don’t look air pollution as national emergency. It is high time, we shift our focus.
For now, the government has finalised National Clean Air Programme worth Rs. 637 crore which looks to tackle the problem of air pollution across the country and hopes to strengthen data gathering mechanisms on air pollution.