According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) global air pollution database released in Geneva, India has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM 2.5 concentrations — the worst being Kanpur with a PM 2.5 concentration of 173 micrograms per cubic metre, followed by Faridabad, Varanasi and Gaya.
Other Indian cities that registered very high levels of PM2.5 pollutants are Delhi, Patna, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Patiala and Jodhpur, followed by Ali Subah Al-Salem in Kuwait and a few cities in China and Mongolia.
India’s financial capital Mumbai is the world’s fourth most polluted megacity. The study considered PM2.5 (particulate matter of diameter less than 2.5 micrometres) and PM10. PM2.5 is more dangerous than PM10. The period considered for the study was 2010 to 2016.
The report states that 9 in 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. In a statement, it said 7 million people die every year because of outdoor and household air pollution. “Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period,” it said.
More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries in the eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
“Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
WHO highlighted that air pollution is mainly responsible for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.
The organisation stressed that although its report provides air quality data from more than 4,300 cities and towns in 108 countries, there was an unevenness in the information received, with a dire lack of data from Africa and parts of the Western Pacific region. Only eight of the 47 countries in Africa provided air quality information about one or more of their cities. And while the database listed information on 181 Indian cities, it provided data for only nine Chinese cities.
The WHO’s collected annual mean concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) includes pollutants, such as sulphate, nitrates and black carbon, which pose the greatest risks to human health. Major sources of air pollution from particulate matter include the inefficient use of energy by households, industry, the agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants. In some regions, sand and desert dust, waste burning and deforestation are additional sources of air pollution.