NEW DELHI: India was the world’s eighth most polluted country in 2022 with an annual average PM2.5 concentration of 53.3 micrograms per cubic metre, according to the fifth annual World Air Quality Report 2022 by IQAir released Tuesday. In 2021, India was ranked the fifth most polluted country with an average PM2.5 level of 58.1 micrograms per cubic metre.
With an annual average PM2.5 concentration of 92.6 micrograms per cubic metre, Delhi has been ranked the fourth most polluted city in the world after Lahore in Pakistan (97.4 micrograms per cubic metre), Hotan in China (94.3 micrograms per cubic metre) and Bhiwadi in Rajasthan (92.7 micrograms per cubic metre).
Delhi had occupied fourth place globally in 2021 too, with average PM2.5 concentration of 96.4 micrograms per cubic metre. The annual safe limit prescribed by World Health Organization (WHO) is 5 micrograms per cubic metre.
Till 2021, Delhi remained the world’s most polluted capital for four consecutive years. However, this year, the report makes a distinction between the capital and the much smaller area of ‘New Delhi’ with the overall Union Territory. Due to this, New Delhi has been ranked the second most regional polluted capital in the world with average PM2.5 concentration of 89.1 micrograms per cubic metre after N’Djamena, Chad (89.7 micrograms per cubic metre). The report said stubble burning is also an important challenge in the region but is an episodic phenomenon confined to a few areas, including Delhi and north India.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, research and advocacy, Centre for Science and Environment, said, “For the first time, they have considered two different geographical units – Delhi and New Delhi. New Delhi is slightly cleaner than the rest of Delhi. But overall, the finding is consistent with the downward trend noticed in other assessments for Delhi. The levels are still very high and require aggressive and time-bound multi-sector action to meet the clean air benchmark.”
The latest report said 12 of the 15 most polluted cities in Central and South Asia were in India. Roughly 60% of Indian cities included in the report experienced annual PM2.5 levels at least seven times higher than the WHO limit.
Roychowdhary said the worst affected cities are from north India and Indo-Gangetic plains, where adverse geo-climatic conditions influence pollution concentration. “There are tiny towns in the list that are more affected by regional pollution than local sources, unless there is a concentration of grossly polluting sources. This validates the need for airshed level action to mitigate pollution across the northern region,” she added.
Avinash Chanchal, campaign manager, Greenpeace India, said stricter regulations on industries and vehicles to reduce pollution is the need of the hour. “Investment in renewable energy in a decentralised manner should be a priority. The government should also invest in ‘real’ public transportation systems, such as buses and suburban rail, to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads,” said Chanchal.
Frank Hammes, global CEO, IQAir, said, “In 2022, more than half of the world’s air quality data was generated by grassroots community efforts. When citizens get involved in air quality monitoring, we see a shift in awareness and the joint effort to improve air quality intensifies.”