Despite recording relatively better air quality last year owing to strict lockdown, air pollution continues to be a serious public health issue which also drastically impacts our economy, a new analysis has found.
A report released by Greenpeace Southeast Asia on Thursday estimated that Bengaluru, which fared better than Delhi and Mumbai, still recorded an estimated 12,000 avoidable deaths owing to PM 2.5 air pollution. Among the six Indian cities featured in the global analysis, Bengaluru is rated better than Delhi and Mumbai, but is worse off when compared with Chennai, Hyderabad, and Lucknow.
The figures were arrived at as per the ‘Cost Estimator’ online tool that estimates the real-time health impact and economic cost from fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) air pollution using real-time ground-level PM 2.5 measurements collated in IQAir’s database.
Commenting on the revelations made by Cost Estimator, CEO of IQAir Frank Hammes was quoted by a Greenpeace release as saying: “Breathing should not be deadly. The fact that poor air quality claimed an estimated 160,000 lives in the five largest cities alone should give us pause, especially in a year when many cities were seeing lower air pollution levels due to less economic activity. ”
When asked about factors that Bengaluru needs to worry about, Avinash Kumar Chanchal, climate campaigner, Greenpeace India, told The Hindu , “Apart from other contributors such as waste burning, construction, industries, and DG sets, the transport sector is the key emission source for Bengaluru. The city needs a paradigm shift from the present fossil fuelled transportation sector.”
He added that the authorities need to plan phasing out fossil fuel burning on a war footing, build an integrated and well-connected public transport network and encourage non-motorised transport such as walking and cycling.
Polluted air increases the likelihood of deaths owing to cancer and stroke, spike in asthma attacks, and worsens severity of COVID-19 symptoms, he said.
Other experts mentioned the need for clarity on spending of funds. CSTEP’s Pratima Singh, head of the Centre for Air Pollution Studies (CAPS), said the Union Budget 2020–21 had allocated ₹300 crore for 10 cities identified beforehand; of this amount, Bengaluru (Karnataka State Pollution Control Board) got ₹10 crore to tackle the city’s air pollution challenges. In addition to this, the 15th Finance Commission had allocated ₹4,400 crore to 40 cities with a million-plus population, including Bengaluru.
Apart from the 40 cities identified by the commission, the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) has separately identified 122 cities as non-attainment cities (those that fail to meet the national standards on air pollution), she said. “Last year, of this list, 40 cities received funding support; this year, 42 cities will receive funding through NCAP. However, there is no still clarity about whether the cities selected for funding this year will be the same as last year’s or new ones. If the same cities receive more funding, then the other 80 cities (of the 122) would have been neglected and would struggle to develop strategies or implement any concrete actions on the ground. This would mean inevitable delays in achieving the NCAP target of reducing particulate matter emissions by 20–30% by 2024,” she added.