The world's most polluted cities are mostly in India

Clay Curtis
February 27, 2020

It includes a world ranking of 4,680 cities and another of 98 countries based on fine particle data (PM2.5) and collected a year ago by ground stations for air quality control. Pakistan and Bangladesh are on the list too.

It is estimated that more than 80% living in urban areas which monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed World Health Organization guideline limits, with low- and middle-income countries most at risk.

Several Chinese cities, including Beijing, have dramatically improved their air quality in recent years, while Indian metropolises remain some of the world's worst polluted, according to a new report.

Citing reports that 90% of the global population breathes air exceeding World Health Organisation (WHO) exposure targets, the report indicated that air pollution is estimated to contribute to seven million premature deaths annually.

Researchers from IQAir compiled the report using data from ground-monitoring stations that measure levels of fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, which include pollutants such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon.

South Asia continues to be of particular concern, with 27 of the 30 most polluted cities in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.

PM2.5 is highly toxic particulate matter which is 2.5 microns wide, or a fraction of the diametre of human hair; being microscopic, it beats the body's defence mechanism and makes its way into various organs can cause diseases like lung cancer, strokes, heart diseases, among others. However, the firm lamented that much of the region still lacked air quality data in remote areas.

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The problem is particularly challenging for South Asian countries.

Reacting to the report, Avinash Chanchal, senior campaigner at Greenpeace India, stated that the steps to be taken to regulate air pollution will not be sufficient. While the the annual average was 135.2 microgram/m3 in 2018, it was 144.6 microgram/m3 in 2017. "But we do not deny that the overall pollution levels in these cities were among the highest in the country in 2019".

Health experts have shown even short-term exposure has significant impacts, as this report says that with every 10 micrograms per cubic metre increase in PM2.5, there is a 1-4 per cent increased risk of cardiac arrest.

Cities in Southeast Asia such as Hanoi and Jakarta have also seen sharp rises in levels due to increased industrialisation and urbanisation. People power is bringing about change, he said. Beijing, for example, halved its pollution levels over the past decade and is no longer one of the most 200 polluted cities.

The report also praised Prime Minister Imran Khan for taking the lead in tackling environmental issues, commending his reinstatement of an air quality monitoring infrastructure in Lahore, a program previously abandoned by the government of former premier Nawaz Sharif. However, the country's national air pollution decreased by 20 per cent from 2018 to 2019.

"Monitoring air quality has been a perennial challenge", said Gia Ibay, climate and energy program head of World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines.

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