Air pollution is known to cause shorter and sicker lives and Delhiites never seem to have had it so bad. The Capital has been listed as the worst performer across the country with respect to the presence of alarmingly high level of Particulate Matter up to 10 micrometer in size (PM10) concentration, thus exposing the residents here to a host of diseases including respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and lung cancer.
A position paper (2014) on “Ambient Air Pollution and Public Health – A Call to Action” by non-government organisation Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) noted: “The worst performers with respect to PM10 were the Northern States including Delhi (highest PM10 concentration), Jharkhand (maximum sulphur dioxide level), West Bengal (highest nitrogen dioxide level).”
Giving details of the deteriorating air quality in the Capital, PHFI researcher Bhargav Krishna said: “Introduction of the Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in early 2003 was the last major intervention to deal with poor air quality in the Capital. Since then the regulation and policy mechanism have been unable to keep up with the growth in vehicular population and construction activity in the city. These are the primary causes of poor air quality.”
“The poor air quality is affecting even children. For those born in the city sustained exposure to high levels of PM10 exposes them to high risk of contracting bronchitis and asthma in addition to reduced lung capacity/function,” said Mr. Krishna.
Understanding the co-relation between poor air quality and diseases the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recently took the first step towards tackling the issue. “The Ministry convened a steering committee on health issues relating to air pollution trying to take a multi-sectoral approach to addressing the problem. Sadly so far no work has happened on the committee for variety of reasons,” Mr. Krishna said.
Meanwhile according to a recent Environmental Performance Index study, India officially has the worst air pollution beating China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It ranks last on ambient air quality of all 170 plus countries surveyed.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Professor of Environmental Economics, Michael Greenstone speaking on ‘Shorter lives due to air pollution and some potential solutions for India’ at a lecture organised by PHFI earlier this week noted: “There is new evidence on people’s exposure to ambient concentrations of airborne Particulate Matter the most dangerous form of air pollution in India, China, and other countries. For much of India’s population, these concentrations greatly exceed India's National Ambient Air Quality Standards and levels that the World Health Organisation consider safe.”