A study recently released by 48 leading scientists has placed two Indian cities — New Delhi and Patna — among the worst polluted in the world with high PM 2.5 levels or the fine particulate matter that affects the body the most. Published in medical journal The Lancet, the study claims that over a million Indians die every year due to air pollution. The smog over northern India is extracting a heavy toll, every minute two lives are lost in India due to ambient air pollution, the study says.
“An estimated 18,000 people die every day because of exposure to ambient and household air pollution, making it the world’s largest single environmental health risk. Ambient air pollution is particularly pertinent in urban areas, but it also affects non-urban populations,” the Lancet Countdown states.
The study says causes of air pollution and climate change are intricately linked and needed to be tackled together. The Lancet concludes that climate change posed both a “potentially catastrophic risk to human health”, while conversely being “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century” if the right steps are taken.
Contradicting some reports, The Lancet says coal fired power plants contribute to 50 per cent of the ambient air pollution. Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Anil Madhav Dave recently admitted in Parliament that the country spends a mere Rs 7 crore annually on monitoring air pollution for a vast country of India’s size with a 1.3 billion population. He had also said no credible study to quantify number of people who have developed lung and allied diseases or number of deaths directly as a result of air pollution is available.
Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan, a trained physician himself, says, “Pollution when it starts affecting lungs especially in little children can be a killer, it is like a slow poison and there is no reason for me not to be worried, a lot has been done, but still a lot that needs to be done.”