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India's 'improved' air quality due to market slowdown, Delhi most polluted world capital

World's most polluting capitals
By Rajiv Shah
Stating that, regionally, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East carry the highest burden of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution overall, a high-profile report, jointly prepared by the top environmental NGO Greenpeace has said, "Of the world’s top 30 most polluted cities during 2019, 18 are located in India, 28 in South Asia, and all the top 30 cities are within greater Asia."
PM2.5 concentrations, widely regarded as most harmful to human health, are defined as ambient airborne particles which measure up to 2.5 microns in size. Its microscopic size allows the particles to enter the blood stream via the respiratory system and travel throughout the body, causing far-reaching health effects, including asthma, lung cancer and heart disease, says the report.
Suggesting that India and other countries need to take high pollution levels very seriously, the "2019 World Air Quality Report" says, worldwide ambient air pollution accounts for29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer, 17% of all deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection, 24% of all deaths from stroke, 25% of all deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease, and 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Sponsored, among others, by UN Environment, UN Habitat, and US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the report, which assesses 355 cities from across the world, says, "Using a weighted population average, Bangladesh emerges as the most polluted country, based on available data. Pakistan, Mongolia, Afghanistan and India follow behind respectively, deviating from one another by less than 10%."
The capital city ranking by the report says that Delhi tops this ranking for the second year, with annual PM2.5 levels nearly 10 times the World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality target of 10µg/m³. Delhi was found to have PM2.5 level of 98.6, followed by Dhaka (Bangladesh) 83.3, Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) 62.0, Kabul (Afghanistan) 58.8, Jakarta (Indonesia) 49.4, Kathmandu (Nepal) 48.0, Hanoi (Vietnam) 46.9, Manama (Bahrain) 46.8, Beijing (China) 42.3, and Tashkent (Uzbekistan) 41.2.
Among other Indian cities which were found to have a very high PM2.5 level are Ghaziabad 110.2, Noida 97.7, Gurugram 93.3, Greater Noida 91.3 (all of which are part of the Delhi National Capital Region, followed by Bandhwan 90.5, Lucknow 90.3, Muzaffarnagar 89.1, Baghpat 88.6, and Jind 85.6. The 15 top polluting cities from South Asia include four Pakistan cities -- Gujranwala 105.3, Faisabad 104.6, Raiwind 92.2, and Lahore 89.5.
Blaming pollution sources across the region ranging from common transportation emissions, biomass burning for household cooking and open agricultural burning to industry and coal combustion, the report says, Pakistan and India saw improvements in PM2.5 levels in 2019, stating there is an "overall decrease in PM2.5 levels by 14.8% across the region, much of which could be attributed to "increased monitoring data, economic slowdown, favorable meteorological conditions and government action."
Stating that India, Iran and Nepal are the only countries within the South Asia region which have live public, national PM2.5 monitoring networks, the report says, "In 2019, India nearly doubled its governmental monitoring network, growing the number of stations to 283, whilst individual contributors provided an additional 31 stations.
The 2019 World Air Quality Report has been jointly perpared by Greenpeace, UN Environment, UN Habitat, and NASA
"However, it says, "While major cities within the region tend to have several stations, much of the region still lacks air quality data, leaving large populations without information regarding the air they are breathing", adding, "Despite improvements, India still faces serious air pollution challenges."
Air quality level: Top polluter countries
Noting that every city in India with PM2.5 data in 2018 and 2019, except for Nagpur, may have seen a decrease in PM2.5 levels in 2019, and national air pollution decreased by a remarkable 20% from 2018 to 2019, the report however regrets, this is not due to policy changes initiated by the Government of India's National Clean Air Programme or the promise of cleaner fuel Bharat VI, but "are rather more indicative of a slowing of the marketplace."
Pointing out that "India again heads this report’s ranking of annual PM2.5 levels by city with half of the 50 most polluted cities being in India", the report says, "No Indian cities included in this report met the WHO target for annual pollution exposure (10ug/m3) during 2019. Additionally, the country still has a relatively limited air quality monitoring network given its population size."

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