US wants tomonitor Air Quality; India stunned
Last updated on:February 20, 2015 14:04 IST
13 out of theworld's 20 most polluted cities are in India.
Most shockingly,thelatest Central Pollution Control Board statistics reveal that thepollution levels in Gwalior, Raipur and even little known Kashipur are higherthan that of Delhi which means we have some of the most polluted zones in theworld.
'Half of the 252cities in India have already crossed critically polluted levels. The governmentmust declare a national emergency on air pollution and treat this on a warfooting.'
Rashme Sehgalreports for Rediff.com
The United Statesdecision to monitor air quality levels in Delhi and other Indian cities hassent shock waves in the ministry of environment and forests.
UnionMinister for the Environment Prakash Javadekar refuses to comment on this USannouncement, but there is no doubt that this has come as a majorembarrassment.
The US mission hasbeen monitoring air quality in Beijing and for several years, the Chinesecapital was dubbed the most polluted city in the world followed by Shanghai.
Delhi now enjoysthis distinction with 20 million Delhites having to inhale dangerous airborneparticles known as PM2.5 while going out to do their shopping, takinga walk or simply driving to their place of work.
These smallparticles, which are less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, get embedded in thelungs and are known to cause lung cancer and heart disease.
Delhi's air hasbeen found to have PM2.5 concentrations of 153 micrograms andPM10 concentrations of 286 micrograms -- four times permissible limits.
The World HealthOrganisation has issued regular warnings to the Indian government about risingparticulate levels.
What has been a greatersource of concern for WHO officials has been the fact, pointedout in its 2014 study on air pollution, that13 out of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in India.
These includeLudhiana, Gwalior, Patna, Vapi, Hyderabad, Guwahati, Kanpur, Raipur and Pune.
Most shockingly,the latest Central Pollution Control Board statistics reveal that the pollutionlevels in Gwalior, Raipur and even little known Kashipur are higher than thatof Delhi which means we have some of the most polluted zones in the world.
Beijing andShanghai's thick smog saw schools and offices being closed down and itsmunicipality taking strict measures including taking cars off the roads inorder to ensure pollution levels came down. No such strict action has beentaken by the Indian State.
Javadekar recently launched a new National AirQuality Index, AQI, to indicate the quality of air in a city and its impact onhealth.
Said Javadekar,'We realise the situation is very serious. The government will not allow abusiness as usual scenario,' adding that the AQI, was a 'One Number-OneColour-One Description' for people to judge air quality.
In the initialphase the monitoring of AQI will take place in 46 cities with a million pluspopulation and 20 state capitals.
Later, it will beexpanded to another 200 cities with categories being divided into Good,Satisfactory, Moderately Polluted, Poor, Very Poor, and Severe.
Dr Mukesh Sharmafrom the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, who helped created the AQI,emphasises this is the first time India will have its own index across cities.But health experts question how far state governments and local municipalitiesare empowered to bring down pollution levels.
"Half of the252 cities in India have already crossed critically polluted levels,"warns Anumita Roychowdhary, deputy director general, Centrefor Science and Environment.
"Thegovernment must declare a national emergency on air pollution and treat this ona war footing," she says
"India is notthe only country who needs to take tough measures," she adds. "It isbeing done across the globe. Very recently, the municipality of Paris refusedto allow outside diesel vehicles to enter the city. They have also shut downfactories in the city in order to reduce pollution levels."
The situation inIndia's capital has become so dire that the American embassy presently issuesdaily smog warnings to inform its diplomats and staff aboutthe toxic air as they do in Beijing and Shanghai.
US officialsconfirm that they plan to extend the AirNow USmissions to other cities across the globe.
Air pollution hasjumped to the number five spot amongst the top killers accordingto India-specific data released by the Global Burden of Disease whichhas stated that it caused over 600,000 deaths and a loss of 17.7 million healthyears of life in 2010.
Worldwide, outdoorair pollution caused 3.2 million premature deaths and over 74 million years ofhealthy life lost in 2010.
Dr Vinod Raina,who heads the oncology department at Fortis hospital,notes that during his three decade-long tenure at the All India Institute ofMedical Sciences, "We were getting 10 lakh (1 million) new cancer casesevery year out of which approximately one lakh (100,000) were lung cancerscases"
"We have toquantify how many of these lung cancer cases are pollution-related, but theindicators are there," adds Dr Raina.
The seriousness ofthe problem can be best understood if we look at the PM2.5 levels of Gwalior,Patna and Raipur which have reported 144, 149 and 134 levels respectively. Bycomparison, London has an annual PM2.5 reading of 16.
WHO's 2014 studylooked at 1,600 cities across 91 countries and showed Delhi had the world'sdirtiest air.
Officials at theIndian Meteorological Department remain in denial, insisting that atmosphericdust which blows in from Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana is responsible for thispollution and that yearly averages in the last four years show that the airquality of Delhi remains better than that of Beijing.
Officials in thegreen ministry also insist, unlike China, they do not hide data andif the debate around air pollution has intensified, itis because the government has been so upfront with its data.