The World Health Organisation (WHO) today called upon member countries in the South-East Asia region to aggressively address the issue of pollution, saying it accounts for 34 per cent of the seven million premature deaths caused by household and ambient air pollution together globally every year. This comes in the wake of a report of the global health body which puts Delhi and 13 other Indian cities in the list of 20 most-polluted cities in the world in terms of PM2.5 levels in 2016.
Stating that air pollution contributes significantly to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer, Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia, stressed on the need for investment in effective urban planning with energy-efficient housing and power generation, building safe and affordable public transport systems and improving industry and municipal waste management.
She also sought elimination of the emissions from coal and biomass energy systems, proper management of agricultural waste, forest fires and agro-forestry activities such as charcoal production and support the transition to exclusive use of clean household energy for cooking, heating and lighting.
Singh drew attention to the example of India’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala scheme under which, in the last two years, 37 million women living below the poverty line were provided free LPG connections to support them to switch to clean household energy use. The country targets to reach 80 million households by 2020.
“The availability of clean household energy affects us all and our families and is a key to sustainable development. All countries in the region are making efforts to expand availability of clean fuels and technologies, however, over 60 per cent population do not have clean fuel,” she said.
She said that individuals should also contribute by valuing the environment and adopting behavioral changes such as using public transport or ‘soot-free’ vehicles, using clean, low-or no-emission stoves and fuels for cooking and reducing and disposing of household waste in an environmentally sound manner.
The combined effects of household air pollution and ambient air pollution become increasingly hard to address if not tackled early, the World Health Organization official said. The majority of countries in the region are at early stages of accelerated urbanization and rapid industrialization.
“Hence, air pollution needs to be brought under control with urgent and effective action at the earliest to stand the best chance to prevent the situation from worsening as development proceeds,” Singh said.
Of the 3.8 million deaths caused by household air pollution globally, the region accounts for 1.5 million or 40 per cent deaths, and of the 4.2 million global deaths due to ambient (outdoor) air pollution, 1.3 million or 30 per cent are reported from the region, according to the latest WHO report.
Delhi and Varanasi are among the 14 Indian cities that figured in a list of 20 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM2.5 levels in 2016, according to a data released by the WHO..
The WHO data also said that nine out of 10 people in the world breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.
Other Indian cities that registered very high levels of PM2.5 pollutants were Kanpur, Faridabad, Gaya, Patna, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Patiala and Jodhpur followed by Ali Subah Al-Salem in Kuwait and a few cities in China and Mongolia.
In terms of PM10 levels, 13 cities in India figured among the 20 most-polluted cities of the world in 2016.