A recent report of the World Health Organisation has revealed Gwalior is the most polluted city in India in terms of air pollution. The report also suggests that the Indian population living outside Kashmir and the Himalayan belt are exposed to air pollution beyond the WHO safe limits. Meanwhile, Delhi, touted as the most polluted city in the world, doesn’t feature in the list of cities with highest air pollution levels. Also, no other metro city features in the notorious list.
The researchers collected air pollution data for their study from nearly 3,000 cities globally between 2008 and 2015.
Comparing between Indian cities on levels of particulate matter PM10 and the more harmful PM2.5, Delhi features in the top lists in India. In terms of pollution levels, Delhi ranks fourth in PM10 list and and fifth in the PM2.5 list.
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However, in global comparisons, Delhi doesn’t feature among the top 10 cities with the highest air pollution levels. Nigeria’s Onitsha city tops the list of highest PM10 levels globally at 594 microgrammes per cubic metre. Only one city from India features in the list – Gwalior. The other cities are Iran’s Zabol (527), Pakistan’s Peshawar (540) and Rawalpindi (448), Nigeria’s Kaduna (423), Aba (373), Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh (368) and Al Jubail (359) and Afghanistan’s Mazar-e-Sharif (334).
The list of cities with the highest level of PM2.5 globally are Zabol (217), India’s Gwalior (176), Allahabad (170), Patna (149) and Raipur (144), China’s Baoding (126) and Xingtai (128), Saudi Arabia’s Al Jubail (152) and Riyadh (156), and Cameroon’s Bamenda (132)
WHO prescribed safe limits PM2.5 and PM10 are 10 microgrammes per cubic metre and 20 microgrammes per cubic metre, respectively. On the other hand, India’s prescribed limits for the same are 20 microgrammes per cubic metre and 60 microgrammes per cubic metre, respectively.
PM2.5 (WHO prescribed Safe level — 10 microgrammes per cubic metre)
India’s cities with highest air pollution
PM10 (WHO prescribed Safe level — 20 microgrammes per cubic metre)
The study based on a pollution model that at least 92 per cent of the global population lives in places that have air pollution levels that exceed WHO’s safe or acceptable limits. The report based on a WHO air quality model also highlights areas in countries that exceed WHO limits.
According to WHO officials, the model provides a baseline for monitoring progress. “The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO.
It is also the most detailed outdoor/ambient air pollution-related health data ever to be published by the global health body. The data is collected from satellite readings, country-by-country, using air transport models and ground station monitors. WHO studied at least 3,000 locations across the globe and fed the data into their model which was co-developed with researchers from the University of Bath, UK. The study was carried out in both rural and urban areas to give more insight to the air pollution trends.
Annually, according to WHO, air pollution (indoor and outdoor) is responsible for at least 6.5 million deaths. It revealed that at around 90 per cent of the deaths caused by air-pollution related ailments are reported from low- and middle-income countries with almost around 66 per cent occurring in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific.
“This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than 6 million deaths – 1 in 9 of total global deaths – from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “More and more cities are monitoring air pollution now, satellite data is more comprehensive, and we are getting better at refining the related health estimates.”
It adds that almost 94 per cent deaths are attributed to non-communicable disease like cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also puts the people at risk of contracting acute respiratory infections.
“Air pollution continues [to] take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” said Dr Bustreo, adding, “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last.”
The leading causes of air pollution include inefficient vehicles and other means of fuel guzzling transports, burning of waste matter, pollution from fossil-fuel powered power plants, and other dirty industries. Although, the report adds not all air pollution is the doing of human activities and that air quality can also be reduced by dust storms releasing particulate matter in the air. Such phenomenon is seen more in arid areas or those close to deserts.
The collected data and its analysis will be used to devise better healthcare measures to prevent air-pollution related medical ailments but experts say that it will not be a quick process. “Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” said Dr Neira, adding that “Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions.”
In September last year, leader across the world had set Sustainable Development Goals. These goals aim to reduce deaths and illnesses caused by air pollution by 2030. Subsequently, in May this year, the global health body gave the nod to a new “road map” aimed at “accelerated action on air pollution and its causes”.
Polluting particulate matter like PM2.5 and PM10 include sulfates, nitrates, black carbon and dust. These particulates, especially PM2.5, penetrate the respiratory and the cardiovascular system and cause serious risks to the health of individuals.