India accounts for seven of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution, according to a new report, but previously smogbound Chinese cities have seen a marked improvement.
Gurugram, a suburb of the Indian capital New Delhi, is the world’s most polluted city, according to Greenpeace and AirVisual, which found it had an average air quality index of 135.8 in 2018 — almost three times the level which the US Environmental Protection Agency regards as healthy.
In two months of last year, the AQI in Gurugram — as measured by levels of fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5 — was above 200. The EPA regards this as “very unhealthy” and warns that “everyone may experience more serious health effects” if exposed.
According to the report, air pollution will cause around 7 million premature deaths globally next year and have a major economic impact.
“Air pollution steals our livelihoods and our futures,” said Yeb Sano, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “In addition to human lives lost, there’s an estimated global cost of 225 billion dollars in lost labor, and trillions in medical costs. This has enormous impacts, on our health and on our wallets.”
The problem is particularly pronounced in South Asia. Eighteen of the world’s top 20 most polluted cities are in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, including the major population centers of Lahore, Delhi and Dhaka, which placed 10th, 11th and 17th respectively last year.
Climate change “is making the effects of air pollution worse by changing atmospheric conditions and amplifying forest fires,” the report said, while noting that the key driver of global warming, burning fossil fuels, is also a major cause of dirty air.
“What is clear is that the common culprit across the globe is the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — worsened by the cutting down of our forests,” Sano said
“What we need to see is our leaders thinking seriously about our health and the climate by looking at a fair transition out of fossil fuels while telling us clearly the level of our air quality, so that steps can be taken to tackle this health and climate crisis.”
While South Asian countries, along with China, are the worst affected, air pollution is a global issue.