Air pollution kills 1.2 million Indians every year, costs the economy an estimated 3% of GDP

airp1Excerpts from “Airpocalypse: Assessment of Air Pollution in Indian Cities” by Sunil Dahiya, Lauri Myllyvirta and Nandikesh Sivalingam, Greenpeace:

Deadly air pollution is not a problem restricted to Delhi-NCR (National Capital Region) or even to India’s metros. It is a national problem that is killing 1.2 million Indians every year and costing the economy an estimated 3% of GDP.

If the country’s development is important, fighting air pollution has to be a priority. Data gathered by Greenpeace India from state pollution control boards shows that there are virtually no places in India complying with WHO and National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQ) standards, and most cities are critically polluted.

Except for a few places in Southern India which complied with NAAQ standards, the entire country is experiencing a public health crisis due to high air pollution levels. Due to the range of different sectors responsible for pollutant emissions, urgent and determined action is needed by a number of ministries in the states and central governments, industry and general public.

Greenpeace is calling on the central and state governments to:

  1. Institute robust monitoring of air quality across the country and make the data publicly available in real time. This should be coupled with a health advisory and ‘red alerts’ for bad-air days, which would enable the public to take decisions to protect their health and the environment and automatically institute measures to protect citizens, such as shutting down schools, traffic reduction measures, shutting down power plants and industries etc.
  2. Use the data as a basis to fine tune pollution reduction strategies that must, inter alia seek to improve public transport and reduce petrol/diesel vehicle use, strengthen enforcement to get polluting vehicles off the roads, introduce higher fuel standards (Bharat VI), enforce stricter emission regulations and improved efficiency for thermal power plants and industries, move from diesel generators to rooftop solar, increase use of clean renewable energy, offer incentives for electric vehicles, dust removal from roads, regulate construction activities and stop burning of biomass and waste.

airp5These strategies should be formalized as a time bound action plan which has targets and penalties. While some actions might need to be city or region-specific, there are a broad range of actions that will be universally applicable. Vocal public participation is critical in reducing air pollution. Our choices in terms of electricity, transportation and waste management can play a major role in managing pollution levels, as are our choices in terms of political leaders who support the goal of reducing air pollution.

In 2016, severe air pollution has disrupted everyday life, especially during the winter. In 2015 air pollution (PM2.5) levels increased in a rapid manner overtaking even China. Even though pollution levels are increasing across the country, the emphasis so far has been on Delhi.

There has been a growing realization that the majority of Delhi’s pollution is coming from outside its borders and that pollution levels in other states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are also increasing. However, the country is yet to come to the full understanding that air pollution is a national problem and to win the fight against it, we need to act as a country and across city or even regional boundaries.

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PM10 levels: India’s worst 10 cities

India’s air pollution has become a public health and economic crisis. There are increasing numbers of people who die prematurely every year with the increasing pollution levels. Deaths due to air pollution are only a fraction less than the number of deaths caused by tobacco usage. Global Burden of Disease (GBD), a comprehensive regional and global research program including 500 researchers representing over 300 institutions and 50 countries, has estimated that 3283 Indians died per day due to outdoor air pollution in India in 2015, making the potential number of deaths due to outdoor air pollution in India in 2015 to 11.98 lakh.

On the economic front, loss of productivity and the forced closures of schools and industries have already started impacting our economy. The World Bank estimates that India loses around 3% of its GDP due to air pollution. This makes air pollution one of the biggest issues to fight if we are to protect peoples’ lives, public health and our economy.

Air pollution is a complex issue, requiring an array of solutions. There are many sources that contribute to pollution across the country. Depending on region and climatic conditions, the contribution of particular sources will also differ. However, what is very clear is that irrespective of where you live, burning of fossil fuels (coal & oil) contributes majorly to air pollution levels across regions.

Air pollution is a national problem and it needs to be addressed equally across the country and not only in Delhi or the National Capital Region. The report also tries to identify major sources of pollution in parts of the country based on past research. As a way ahead for the country, our long term goals to solve the air pollution crisis can be universal, while short term solutions are to be decided based on the levels of pollution prevailing in the region.

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PM10 levels: India’s best cities

The Central Pollution Control Board has instituted the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP). Under NAMP, three air pollutants viz., Sulphur Dioxide (SO2 ), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2 ) and Particulate Matter size equal to or less than 10 micron (PM10), have been identified for regular monitoring at all the locations. The NAMP network presently comprises 621 operating monitoring stations located in 262 cities/towns in 29 states and 5 union territories across the country.

Greenpeace tried to collect data on PM10 levels for these NAMP station across the country through various sources such as Right to Information (RTI) application filed to SPCB (State Pollution Control Boards) to gather data, SPCB’s websites and annual reports of SPCBs etc. Simultaneously, a secondary literature review was carried out to understand the sources of pollution, to capture the most recent source apportionment studies carried out throughout the country.

The map plotted from the annual average PM10 concentrations across the country suggests that there are no places or cities in northern India complying with WHO and NAAQS standards, and most of the cities are critically polluted. Except for a few places in Southern India which complied with NAAQ standards, the entire country is experiencing a public health crisis due to high air pollution levels.

It requires a system approach to understand pollution levels regularly and take action. The first step in the direction is having a robust monitoring of air quality across the country to know information in real time and using the data to arrive at strategies that would protect public health and reduce pollution levels. The strategies to reduce pollution should become an action plan which is time bound and has targets and penalties.

Governments of India should adopt time-bound national and regional action plans, which have clear targets for regions and penalties for non-compliance. This should include providing transparent data to the public on air quality, short term and long term measures to reduce air pollution. Public participation is critical in reducing air pollution. Our choices for electricity and transportation could play a major role in managing pollution levels in many parts of the country.

Download full report HERE

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