Over a million Indians a year die because of air pollution, a new Greenpeace report claims. The smog cost three percent of GDP annually, it adds. Greenpeace bases the estimate on official figures.
The report – subtly titled “Airapocalypse” – was published on Wednesday, January 11th 2017. Its findings drew upon online reports and information obtained via right to information (RTI) requests submitted to State Pollution Control Boards. This was according to the Times of India.
The major findings of the report included that air pollution causes almost 1.2 million deaths in India every year. It based this on estimates by the multinational Global Burden of Disease (GBD) research program that outdoor air pollution killed 3,283 Indians every day. It noted that India’s air pollution levels superseded those of China in 2015.
The ToI quoted a Greenpeace campaigner as saying, “we are facing an apocalypse right now due to unbreathable air…authorities are laying a deaf ear to the numerous scientific reports that have got alarm bells ringing.”
Delhi retains its status as “the pollution capital of the world” according to the report. This is despite other studies last year suggesting otherwise. A WHO study – Ambient Air Pollution: A Global Assessment of Exposure and Burden of Diseases – placed Delhi second behind the Saudi capital Riyadh. Meanwhile, an urban air quality database ranked Delhi eleventh of 3,000 cities. However, four other Indian cities – Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna, and Raipur all ranked in the top ten, in second, third, sixth, and seventh place respectively. A further five cities, Delhi included, were in the top twenty.
Regardless of Delhi’s precise ranking in lists of world cities, the report’s assessments of the nation’s capital’s air quality are deeply worrying. The report said that Delhi’s PM10 (particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in diameter) concentrations are 4.5 times higher than the NAAQS limit set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and 13 times the limit set by the WHO. For a city whose population numbers at around 25 million people, this is deeply troubling and must be addressed.
Greenpeace were akeen to state that “air pollution is a national problem and it needs to be addressed equally across the country…not only in Delhi and the National Capital Region.” According to the report, there are “virtually no places in India complying with WHO and National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQ) standards”, except for “a few places” in the south of the country. Of the 168 Indian cities Greenpeace surveyed, none met WHO standards of air quality.
The measures recommended by Greenpeace to address the problems included calls on the Centre and the state governments to “institute robust monitoring of air quality across the country and make the data publicly available in real time”, as well as to
“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.”
The report emphasised the need for such initiatives to be “formalized as a time-bound action plan which has targets and penalties.” Pointing to the fact that air pollution eats away at 3% of India’s GDP annually, the report said “if the country’s development is important, fighting air pollution has to be a priority.”
Most would be inclined to agree. India has committed itself in the last year to taking real action against climate change and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. It became the 62nd country to ratify the Paris agreement last October.
The past few decades of industrialisation have led to India becoming an industrial powerhouse. It is now the world’s largest democracy and possesses one of its largest economies. Yet all this has come at a price that India will have to pay, unless its response is swift, expedient, decisive, and proactive. Given the recent conduct of politicians in the country, however, one shouldn’t hold out much hope – even if the health of the nation is at stake.
The Greenpeace report can be accessed here.