The report revealed that not a single country managed to meet the WHO’s air quality standard in 2021.
Bangladesh is the most polluted country in the world. New Delhi remains to be the world’s most polluted capital city for the fourth consecutive year, according to the World Air Quality Report, prepared by Swiss organization IQAir. Ninety-three cities around the world reported PM 2.5 levels that were 10 times the recommended level. According to IQAir, its data is based “exclusively” on-ground sensors, and nearly half of them are operated by governmental agencies around the world.
While Delhi ranks fourth in the world for air pollution, Rajasthan’s Bhiwadi is the most polluted place on the planet. India is home to ten of the world’s top fifteen most polluted cities. According to the report, the capital Beijing has maintained a five-year trend of improved air quality, which is attributed to emission control and reductions in coal power plant activity and other high-emission industries.
Air pollution is now regarded as the world’s largest environmental health threat. Air pollution causes and aggravates a wide range of diseases, from asthma to cancer, lung illnesses, and heart disease. According to the University of Chicago’s air quality life index, residents in Delhi and Lucknow in India, for example, could live an extra decade if air quality levels met WHO standards.
Vehicle emissions, coal-fired power plants, industrial waste, biomass combustion for cooking, and the construction industry are the major sources of air pollution. The report specifically mentions smoke from crop-burning after the rice harvest.
The report is based on measurements of PM2.5 in the air from 6,475 cities in 117 countries, regions, and territories around the world. The WHO’s September 2021 guidelines call for good air quality with PM2.5 concentrations ranging from 0 to 5 g/m3. However, all these cities have ultra-fine particulate matter (PM)2.5 levels at least 10 times more than the approved limits.
The fine particles, or particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), refer to tiny particles in the air with a width of two and one-half microns or less. Particles 2.5 microns or smaller are considered especially dangerous to human health because they bypass many of our body’s defenses.
Furthermore, in this age of Covid-19, researchers have discovered that exposure to PM2.5 increases the risk of contracting the virus and experiencing more severe symptoms, including death if infected.
The pressing need for economic development and growing environmental degradation has posed a challenge to all policymakers. A middle path called ‘sustainable development has emerged as the way forward reconciling the two, not fully but mostly.
2021 Country/region ranking
2021 Capital city ranking
Average annual PM2.5 concentration for regional capital cities in descending order
What can be done?
- Adopt legislation to incentivize the use of clean air vehicles for personal and industrial use.
- Increasing focus on renewable energy moving away from fossil fuel.
- Recycle, reuse, and efficient use of natural resources.
- Environmental clusters like national parks, sanctuaries, and biosphere reserves in line with industrial clusters- compensate for the negative effect on the environment.
- Using energy-efficient appliances on a daily basis to save energy.
- Increase public transportation, and use power with clean and renewable energy sources.
- To increase pedestrian and bicycle traffic, additional infrastructure should be built.
- Vehicle and industry emission limitations should be strengthened and enforced.
- Adopt new air quality standards based on WHO recommendations for 2021.
- Increase the number of public monitoring stations for air quality.
- Provide incentives to people and non-governmental organizations who establish their own air quality monitoring stations.
- Limit wildfires by implementing forest management practices.
- Agricultural and biomass burning are to be prohibited.
- Carbon taxation and the polluter pay principle shall be encouraged.
- Export-Import subsidies on cleaner and fuel-efficient machinery as capital goods.
- Reduce your exposure to air pollution.
- When the air quality is poor, limit outside activity.
- Wear a respirator mask when air quality is unhealthy.
- When feasible, use air filters and purification systems.
- Instead of wood-burning stoves, use gas or electricity for cooking and heating your home.
- You can use either artificial or natural purifiers at home. Plants like aloe vera, bamboo palm are natural purifiers that can be used as houseplants.
- Breathing exercises can help to strengthen the lungs and help them fight pollutants.
- It is proved that foods rich in vitamin E and C are great to reduce the effects of air pollution.
- Fluids help in the detoxification of the body, so drink plenty of fluids.
- Create new civic tactics for bettering air quality.
In some countries like India, pollution is increasing because of urban pattern development. In western countries, urban development appeared and spread from core centers. In some countries, the development is focused more and more towards the urban core. Even spread of urban development also makes vehicular pollution evenly spread out and decreases the traffic congestion.
In countries like Singapore, there is a special tax for an individual to have a personal car. But these are anti-populist suggestions, and nobody will take them up. A well-developed transport system can be a remedy. There should be a fundamental reorientation of transport infrastructure so that we can easily move towards public transport.
In the tag of wars between development and environment, tilting heavily in favor of one will harm both in the long run. Relentless focus on development disregarding the environment will make it unsustainable, and resulting health and environmental costs will offset all economic gains.
Similarly, environmental fundamentalism will slow down much-needed development to reduce poverty, disease, malnutrition, etc. Low generation of economic resources will impact the welfare of both people and the environment. Thus countries need to walk the tight rope balancing the two and aiming for sustainable development.