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India’s air pollution problem – 7 of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world located in India

New data released by IQAir, AirVisual and Greenpeace shows that India topped the poll in terms of worst air pollution for 2018.

According to the report, a suburb of the Indian capital New Delhi, Gurugram, is the most polluted city in the world.

The data, released via Greenpeace on March 5th, highlights the scale of the pollution issue in India and the impact which it has upon the rest of the world. 18 of the biggest polluters in the world are in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Recent studies showed that the concentration of airborne particles known as PM2.5, which are considered the most harmful, was more than 250 – 10 times the upper limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

This exhaustive report gives new perspective on recent stories relating to measures which the Indian government has made to switch to renewable energy sources and reduce their dependency on fossil fuels.

Solar energy, electric cars and sustainably powered houses have all been touted as plans for a greener future within the country, but these findings place an even greater sense of urgency upon Indian leaders.

“The 2018 World Air Quality Report is based on the review, compilation and validation of data from tens of thousands of air quality monitoring stations around the world.

Now everyone with a cellphone has free access to this data via the AirVisual platform. This has also created demand for air quality monitoring in cities or regions where no public data is available.

Communities and organizations from California to Kabul are supplementing governmental monitoring efforts with their own low cost air quality monitoring networks, and are giving everyone access to more hyper-local information.” – Frank Hammes, IQAir CEO

According to CNN, Air quality in the Gurugram area is almost three times the level which is described as being healthy by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

New Delhi Pollution B
Visibility is often so low, and air pollution so high in New Delhi that business and schools sometimes have to be shut down. Image: (c) Independent UK

New Delhi’s poor air quality has long been reported upon, getting so bad in recent years that schools and businesses have been closed as a result. Vox reported in 2017 that ‘breathing in the Indian capital was like smoking 50 cigarettes a day.’

Poor air quality is becoming a huge issue in South East Asia.

“This has enormous impacts, on our health and on our wallets. In addition to human lives lost, there’s an estimated cost of $225 billion in lost labor, and trillions in medical costs.” – Yeb Sano, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia

The report notes that “climate change is making the effects of air pollution worse by changing atmospheric conditions and amplifying forest fires.” It also outlines how the burning of fossil fuels is a large contributor to the poor air quality in these locations.

A Bloomberg chart examines the biggest polluters.

What is clear is that the common culprit across the globe is the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — worsened by the cutting down of our forests,” added Greenpeace representative Yeb Sano in a subsequent statement, “What we need to see is our leaders thinking seriously about our health and the climate by looking at a fair transition out of fossil fuels while telling us clearly the level of our air quality, so that steps can be taken to tackle this health and climate crisis.”

Every single city included in the report in the Middle East and Africa exceeded WHO guidelines for PM2.5, as did 99% of cities in South Asia, 95% in Southeast Asia, and 89% in East Asia. As many areas lack up-to-date public air quality information and are for this reason not represented in this report, the total number of cities exceeding the WHO PM2.5 threshold is expected to be far higher.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • In South Asia: out of 20 most polluted cities in the world, 18 are in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This includes previously unseen data from Pakistan’s first public monitoring network of sensors.
  • In Southeast Asia: Jakarta and Hanoi are Southeast Asia’s two most polluted cities. With Beijing’s air quality getting better, Jakarta risks overtaking China’s famously polluted capital soon.
  • In China: average concentrations in the cities in China fell by 12% from 2017 to 2018. Beijing ranks now as the 122nd most polluted city in the world in 2018.
  • In the Western Balkans: 10 cities in the Western Balkans – Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo – and four in Turkey have PM2.5 levels more than 3 times the WHO guidelines. 8 cities in the Balkans are among the world’s most polluted 10%, out of all the cities with data.
  • In U.S. and Canada: While average air quality is good in global comparison, historic wildfires had a dramatic impact on air quality in August and November, with 5 out of 10 most polluted cities in the world during August found in North America.
  • Massive populations, including on continental Africa and South America, do not have adequate air quality measuring infrastructure.
Colin J McCracken
Colin J McCracken

Director and Executive Editor

Colin J McCracken is an Irish editor and writer of both fiction and journalism. Coming from a background in education and film, his passions are split between the environmental and the entertaining. Constantly striving for a more sustainable existence and trying to balance it while simultaneously buying too many books.