According to the World Air Quality Report released by Swiss firm IQAir, India’s air pollution reached a very poor state in 2021. The improvement in the air quality that has been recorded for the last three years has come to a halt. The average air pollution measured in hazardous and microscopic PM 2.5 pollutants is 58.1 micrograms per cubic metre, which is 10 times higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines. No city in India met the WHO standard.
The report said, “India was home to 11 of the 15 most polluted cities in Central and South Asia in 2021. Delhi saw a 14.6 per cent increase in PM2.5 concentrations in 2021 with levels rising to 96.4 µg/m3 from 84 µg/m3 in 2020. No cities in India met the World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guideline of 5 µg/m3. In 2021, 48 per cent of India’s cities exceeded 50 µg/m3, or more than 10 times the WHO guideline.”
The condition of North India is the worst. Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital (of a country) for the second year in a row, with pollution increasing by almost 15 per cent over the previous year. Air pollution levels here were nearly 20 times the WHO safety limit, with PM2.5 for an annual average of 96.4 micrograms per cubic metre. A limit of up to 5 is considered safe.
The major sources of air pollution include vehicular emissions, coal-fired power plants, industrial waste, biomass combustion for cooking and the construction sector. In fact, in November last year, several large power plants around Delhi as well as many industries were shut down for the first time because of severe levels of air pollution. The economic cost of the crisis to India is estimated at over $150 billion annually. The health impact is far worse with an estimated three deaths every minute linked to air pollution in addition to heart and lung diseases and many other severe health effects.
Only the territories of New Caledonia, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico met the updated WHO PM2.5 air quality guidelines. Further, only 222 out of 6,475 global cities in the report met the updated WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
At least 93 cities in the report had annual PM2.5 concentrations exceeding 10 times the WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
Of 174 Latin America and the Caribbean cities, only 12 (7%) have met the WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
Of 1,887 Asian cities, only four (0.2%) have met the updated WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
Of the 1,588 cities in Europe, only 55 (3%) have met the WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
The report covered 2,406 cities in the US and found that the average PM2.5 concentrations rose from 9.6 Aug/m3 to 10.3 Aug/m3 in 2021 compared to 2020.