Air pollution is a global issue but countries like India are affected by this the most in terms of health issues, disease burden, mortality rates and life expectancy. A recent report puts the number of deaths caused by air pollution at 4.2 million and 1.2 million, globally and in India, respectively. Air pollution also causes about 3.8 million premature deaths in low and middle-income countries mainly from respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
A recent World Air Quality (WAQ) report says that 21 out of 30 cities of the world with the worst air pollution are in India. In 2016, India displaced China as the most air-polluted country in the world.
As per the report, northern areas of India especially Delhi, capital of India, are facing more devastating effects than other areas of the country. Delhi is now one of the most air-polluted cities in the world. Air pollution is considered to be the 5th largest killer in Delhi, as it is claiming 0.62 million lives annually in the metropolis.
Air pollution has emerged as the deadliest form of pollution and the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide. These deaths cost the global economy about $225 billion in lost labour income in 2013.
A World Bank study released in 2016 revealed that India lost more than 8.5% of its GDP in 2013 due to the cost of increased welfare and lost labour due to air pollution.
A study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, found that air pollution cost Mumbai and Delhi $10.66 billion (approximately Rs 70,000 crore) in 2015, or about 0.71% of the country’s GDP. According to a 2017 study by British medical journal The Lancet, pollution can bring down economic output by as much as 2 per cent annually in less-developed countries. The report also states that pollution is responsible for 7% of annual health care spending in middle-income countries that are heavily polluted and rapidly developing.
Long term inhaling of polluted air can have many dangerous effects on not just human beings but also animals. The polluted air in Delhi is shortening the life expectancy as it is causing loss of lung functions, asthma, bronchitis and possibly cancer, cardiovascular dysfunction, and premature births.
An earlier report says that most of the population is suffering from indoor pollution, caused by cigarette smoke, household processing like cooking and poor ventilation, and outdoor air pollution, caused by major motor vehicles, industrial processes, forest fire, a coal-fired plant and thermal power plants.
These factors have resulted in the emission of dangerous gasses such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone gas and nitrogen oxide. They also damage the circulatory system which further affects the heart and brain’s functioning.
The recent WAQ report states that the smog and air pollution of New Delhi is increasing rapidly. The readings on Air Quality Index (AQI) are surpassing the limit of 300 for 2.5PM (particulate matter) that is 12 times worse than the previous years. The limit of AQI is set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
PM, or particulate matter, is used to monitor the concentration or quality of the air. PM10 are 10 micrometer in size and are inhalable as they can pass easily through airways. PM2.5 is even smaller in size at only 2.5 micrometer. They are considered to be more dangerous and harmful. PM2.5 is 30 times smaller than a human hair which is 70 micrometer in size. For a particle this small, passing through airways is quite easy.
Air Quality Index (AQI) is a measure and predictor of pollution in the air. While Delhi’s air is at about 300 at the moment, the normal and recommended level is 0-50. In 2019, the AQI level reached up to 800 in some cities of India including the capital due to smog.
In 2015 alone, air pollution affected almost 4.4 million school-going children across the country resulting in permanent lung damage and dry, hacking cough, sore throat, itching in eyes and nose. The children breathing the toxic air, particularly smog, were affected so badly they never really fully recovered.
China and India are known to be the most polluted countries because of the worsening foul air, severe transport problems, congestion, diesel usage, traffic injuries and shortage of parking.
According to an Air Visual Report, countries across the globe are facing air pollution as the most pressing environmental health risk.
The Chinese campaign “blue skies“, aimed at reducing pollution, has proven effective in overcoming this menace. The campaign is based on controlling pollution across 82 cities of China that cover 37 percent of the population. It includes a national pricing system for carbon emission, contamination of water and also the polluters will be punished.
Yann Boquillod, director of air quality monitoring at IQ Air, said, “Fast-growing cities need to choose if they want to grow sustainably.” He further said, “Up till recently, growth was more important than the environment, but we’re seeing a very clear trend that people are demanding more from their local governments”.