India air pollution is now worse than China

Greenpeace analysis of NASA satellite pictures reveals levels of airborne particles are soaring as a result of increase burning of coal, oil and waste

(Pic: Jean Etienne Minh Duy/Flickr)

(Pic: Jean Etienne Minh Duy/Flickr)

By Joanna Peasland

Dangerous air quality levels in Indian cities are putting the population’s health at serious risk, as new satellite images reveal pollution concentrations equal to those of China.

Delhi, Agra, Kampur and Patna are among cities experiencing levels of pollution higher than the toxic levels measured in Beijing, according to a Greenpeace analysis of NASA satellite data.

Last year was India’s smoggiest ever, said the research. Concentrations of small airborne pollutants from the burning of coal, petrol and waste reached a record high of 153 microgrammes per cubic meter in Delhi, compared to 92.4 in Beijing.

Levels in both cities still far exceed the ‘safe’ level of 25 recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), posing acute short and long-term health threats.

“The poor, living near busy roads or industrial sites, are disproportionately affected,” warned Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asian Region.

Analysis: Pollution levels in Delhi high despite odd-even traffic rule
Toxic Delhi: Earth’s most polluted city has no plan to cut emissions

India’s dramatically rising pollution levels during 2000-2012 have been associated with a growing consumption of fossil fuels.

Coal and oil usage have increased 110% and 70% respectively in the twelve-year period. The Greenpeace report lists power generation, transport, industry and agriculture as major polluters.

Delhi has the worst reported air quality in the world and 13 of the top 20 most polluted cities are in India.

High levels of air pollution caused approximately 1,800 deaths daily in India in 2003 and 2.7 million deaths worldwide in 2012, according to WHO.

Poor air quality also increases the risk of lung cancer and chronic respiratory and heart diseases, Lauri Myllyvirta, co-author of the Greenpeace Clean Air Action Plan told Climate Home.

“A particular concern in India, due to relatively high levels of child mortality, is the fact that air pollution increases the risk of low birth weight babies and respiratory infections in children,” he said.

Delhi recently took action to curb pollution by imposing an odd-even traffic rule to reduce the number of private vehicles on the road following ‘toxic’ levels of PM2.5 particles.

Myllyvirta believes that addressing transport, industry and other major polluting sectors is key to solving the city’s pollution problem.

“Delhi does have the potential to drive wider national and regional improvements”, he said, but emphasised that a great extent of North India’s population are often exposed to pollution levels even worse than Delhi.

Outdoor pollution is a major problem for 15 out of 17 Indian cities, said the report. Air quality is so poor that pollution measures exceed national standards by 70% in the majority of monitoring stations across the country.

“It is absolutely key to tackle the problem on the regional and national level”, added Myllyvirta.

Read more on: Cities | India | Living | |