Air Pollution Caused Thousands of Premature Deaths in Indian Metros in 2016
14,800 people died from the air pollution in New Delhi in 2016, a new study finds. The study was conducted by researchers in India, Singapore, and Thailand, and looked at pollution-related deaths in 13 South Asian and Chinese megacities.
As Hindustan Times reports, the study found Delhi had the third-highest number of deaths due to air pollution in 2016, after Beijing, which had 18,200, and Shanghai, which had 17,600. Though air pollution is generally considered to be less of a problem in Mumbai, this is not necessarily the reality: The city ranked fourth on the list, with 10,700 pollution-related deaths.
Of the 13 megacities, five were Indian: Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Chennai closed out the list. And though Chinese cities may have seen more pollution-related deaths, it’s not because they have higher air pollution levels than Indian cities. “Chinese cities report higher mortality numbers, despite lower pollution levels than cities like Delhi because the population in their cities is more,” said Kamal Jyoti Maji, one of the study’s co-authors.
PM 2.5, or particulate matter in the air smaller than 2.5mm in diameter, is associated with several health conditions, such as heart disease, strokes, chronic pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute lower respiratory infection in infants. It also exacerbates conditions like asthma. “There is a higher burden of elderly people who are disproportionately affected by air pollution exposure,” Maji said.
As HT points out, a global report from 2015 estimated that 1.1 million total deaths across India were related to air pollution that year. And a report from this year predicts that number could increase to 3.6 million by 2050 if no action is taken to reduce air pollution levels. The study’s authors noted that the term ‘airpocalypse’ has been used to refer to the pollution crisis occurring in Asian megacities.
“Though China has taken initial steps with pollution control targets and strategy, there is an urgent need for government policy in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan,” the researchers stated. Last November, Delhi saw a particularly bad spell of air pollution, to which the government responded with plans to increase the number of water-sprinkling tankers, road sweepers, and green areas in the city. But activists said this was not enough, and that the government had not established a substantive, long-term plan to clear the air.
“The current policy is not enough to protect public health in any megacity in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The future also looks bleak if current policies continue,” Maji said. “China has stronger regulatory mechanisms and time-bound specific targets.”
Earlier this year, the Union Environment Ministry released a draft of its National Clean Air Programme, which was widely criticized for not providing specific targets for pollution reduction, and failing to take into account the severe health risks of high air pollution levels. “The current NCAP draft is essentially a research programme designed to build institutional and technical capacity of central and the state pollution boards,” wrote The Wire in May. “The timeline of all proposals conclude in less than two years from the start. There is also no mention of a time-bound ambient air quality target to achieve or how.”
Some young families who have the means are already moving out of New Delhi and into less polluted areas, like Goa. If the government continues to take neither substantial accountability nor action, families in India’s megacities will continue to suffer.