Pollution: In coal, old vehicles, firecrackers, story of China victory over India

In terms of deaths per lakh population, India is now choking at a rate faster than China’s. At the turn of the millennium, they levelled at 87-88 deaths per lakh. In 2015, the number is 91 for India, 85 for China.

Written by Jay Mazoomdaar | Updated: February 16, 2017 1:26 pm
chinese market, chinese products, china economy, india economy, air pollution, delhi air pollution, air quality, delhi air quality, china air pollution, solid fuel, Global Burden of Disease, GBD data, LPG, CNG, chinese crackers, chinese vehicles, indian express news, india news, death by breath In terms of deaths per lakh population, India is now choking faster than China. (File Photo)

Two of the world’s fastest growing economies, China and India, are also rivals for the world’s highest air pollution health burden. In 2015, India recorded a higher casualty rate due to outdoor air pollution than China — a first since 2000.

In fact, for the first time since 1990, India also lost more people to outdoor air pollution than China. But the 18,000 margin — 11.98 lakh to 11.80 lakh — may not tell the full story. One needs to look at death rates to get the real measure of the risk in the two countries.

Read | Death By Breath: A look at key studies on Delhi’s pollution and how warnings were ignored

In terms of deaths per lakh population, India is now choking faster than China. At the turn of the millennium, when outdoor air pollution killed nearly 2 lakh more in China, the countries levelled out at 87-88 deaths per lakh. After 15 years, India records 91 deaths per lakh against China’s 85.

The picture becomes more grim if one takes into account deaths resulting from indoor air pollution caused by the burning of solid fuel for cooking. In 1990, indoor air pollution killed 9.13 lakh and 10.42 lakh in India and China respectively. After 25 years, these numbers stand at 9.77 lakh and 5.90 lakh respectively. In terms of death per lakh, China has cut 47 deaths (90 to 43) while India has managed only 30 (105 to 75) since 1990.

Read | What’s happening to Delhi air will have you gasping for breath

The numbers, part of the biennial Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data, have recently been used in the State of Global Air report, 2017, prepared by the Boston-based nonprofit Health Effects Institute, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.


While the aggressive promotion of subsidised LPG and more affordable CNG for cooking has led to a moderate reduction in household air pollution, India’s appetite for more cars, power plants and industries have made outdoor air pollution worse. Unsurprisingly, the GBD 2015 report ranked outdoor air pollution as the third leading health risk factor in India.

Outdoor air pollution is caused by ambient particulate matter (PM) that includes coarse and fine dust. Nitrogen and sulphur oxides (NOx and SOx), which transform into secondary particles, account for up to 34% of PM pollution in India. Ground-level ozone, another secondary pollutant, is produced by the reaction of two primary pollutants, NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), in sunlight and still air.

The Union Health Ministry’s Steering Committee on Air Pollution and Health Related Issues underlined in an August 2015 report the “strong correlation” between high levels of pollutants and coal-fired power plants. “With substantial growth in coal-based power predicted even in the most conservative of scenarios, and lax standards to address stack emissions, this is a problem that is only going to worsen with time,” it said.

The Committee recommended “quicker uptake of clean technologies… tight particulate standards for power plants and… standards for nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and mercury to reduce exposure to power plant emissions.”

In 2016, an IIT-Kanpur study attributed “nearly 80% of sulfates and 50% nitrates to the receptor concentration” in India to coal-fired plants. In 2015, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) put the numbers at 53% and 40% respectively.

Indeed, coal consumption in India has doubled since 2005 without significant investment in cleaner technologies. Over the same period, China too recorded a nearly 50% growth in coal consumption — however, it has cut down on coal since peaking in 2013, and put in place emission control measures since 2004.

Before it enforced stricter emission norms in January 2012, China raised electricity prices for industrial users by RMB 0.03 (30 paise) per KWh to finance an estimated $ 41 billion needed to upgrade anti-emission equipment.

India notified its first comprehensive emission standards for thermal power plants only in December 2015 and set a 2-year compliance window.

With not one among 400-plus thermal units complying yet, the government is set to relax the norms, and also extend the compliance deadline.

While Diwali continues to be celebrated with firecrackers, China restricted traditional Chinese New Year fireworks in 700 cities. Shanghai cut the number of sellers, and Beijing made citizens buying more then five boxes of fireworks register with authorities.

While the Indian government moved the Supreme Court against the ban on 10-year-old diesel vehicles, China is cutting down vehicular fuel consumption from 6.9 litres to 5 litres per 100 km between 2016 and 2020, at an annual rate of 6.2%. It aims to phase out up to 6 million highly-polluting vehicles, and is implementing a ‘Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric vehicles’ programme.

According to GBD data, outdoor air pollution killed 9.7 lakh and 12.2 lakh people in India and China respectively in 2005. Ten years on, the Indian count was 12 lakh, topping the 11.8 lakh deaths in China. That is a 24% rise in India, compared to a 3% fall in China.


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  1. J
    j s
    Feb 16, 2017 at 5:55 am
    AAP govt will reduce pollution by installing more monitors but no check on 50 year old vehicles creating havoc on Delhi roads.
    1. A
      Feb 19, 2017 at 9:38 am
      Agnihotra is the only solution which is simple economical and van be done by all no government initiatove required.Europe latin america has adop then why we cannot implement our own wonder weapon vedic technology.
      1. A
        Feb 19, 2017 at 9:39 am
        Petform daily agnihotra and save environment and planet
        1. A
          Feb 16, 2017 at 5:27 pm
          You Indians are so butthurt it's hilarious! lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;As an American I am just cracking up while reading these comments. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Face the facts, India is faces a poor, polluted, and dirty future. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;You guys are doing worse than China in pollution, and you don't even have a fourth the GDP per capita. Now THAT is the real loss.
          1. H
            Heila Bhixit
            Feb 20, 2017 at 3:36 am
            It is good that Delhi Mohalla Clinics have ultimately found this innovative potion control method. We should increase air pollution in NCR to get rid of AAP technologists.lt;br/gt; Dr Manmohan should also sleep in gas chamber ( filled with max polluted ITO crossing air).
            1. I
              Feb 18, 2017 at 1:00 am
              You are reading it wrong 12/9.7 for India and 11.8/12 for China. The article is correct.
              1. J
                Feb 18, 2017 at 5:35 am
                India has one of the Best Technology in the World, for Drastically reducing the Energy and Fuel consumption, and most importantly all this Air Pollution from the Automobiles. (was shown at the Autoexpo2000, New Delhi, 17 years ago!)lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;It is these Egoistic Automakers that are the Biggest Stumbling Block in this Fight against the Air Pollution in Indian Cities. (and even more than those Oil Producers, who would/could Reduce their Oil Production, if not really required, and would still get the same money from the higher Oil prices!). The Automakers should correctly follow the Newton's Laws of Motion, for their Automobiles, especially the First law of Motion, to conserve or recover their Kinetic Energy while Braking and use that same Energy for a Free Acceleration after Braking. ..just like how a Simple `To-and-Fro'' Energy Storage Mechanism in a Pull-back Toy Car does that job or Recovery and Reuse of Energy, So Brilliantly. ..Trrrr (Braking Action), ..Vroom (= A Free Acceleration!). lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;An Acceleration that can be completely Free! powered by the Energy Recovered and Stored in the Transmission, and therefore Free of any New Energy Generation, Fuel consumption, (even having to use the Battery Power!) for the Acceleration. ..and all this Air Pollution from the Automobiles, most of which is from repeated Braking and Acceleration in our Stop-and-Go City Traffic. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;A Unique Transmission Mechanism that follows the Newton's Laws of Motion, namely the 1st Law or the Continuation of Motion or Momentum, to Recover most of the Kinetic Energy while Braking and using it for a Free Acceleration, to drastically Reduce the Engine Power, Fuel Consumption and the Air Pollution from the Automobiles; along with a CVT drive that follows F=ma or the 2nd Law of Motion, to Further improve the Energy Efficiency of the Automobiles especially at Higher Speeds was shown at the Autoexpo2000, New Delhi. ..17 years ago!.
                1. J
                  Feb 18, 2017 at 2:08 pm
                  India should ban or put 300%!tax on fire crackers and festival fires that are producing heavy smoke. Also, put 30% surcharge on deasil vehicles, above all create financial market for trash recycling or produce electricity from farm waste. This will bring down at least 30% of smoke pollution. Also tax families having more than one car/van.
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