Of the world’s thirty most-polluted cities, 21 are in India. This is according to data compiled in IQAir AirVisual’s 2019 World Air Quality Report, which found that six Indian cities take spots among the top ten for air pollution.
This is hardly unsurprising, nor is it without precedent. Recent years have seen India home to seven of the world’s ten most polluted cities to India. In years before this, fourteen of the world’s fifteen most polluted cities were in India.
A report published last year by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), found that 8.3 million lives are lost to air pollution every year, making air quality the leading environmental threat to public health. In 2017 it was documented that India lost 2,326,771 lives to pollution, accounting for more than a quarter of global deaths due to breathing in toxic air. Pollution-related deaths account for fifteen percent of global mortality. In addition, 275 million disability-adjusted life years are lost to pollution annually.
Deaths and associated disease due to air pollution have consistently arrested headlines and provoked responses from health bodies across the globe to highlight the issue as being among the world’s foremost health challenges. With even short stays in polluted cities found to be harmful to human health, the impact on those who live within these cities is severe.
“Urgent action” is required to address pollution in India, according to Dr Maria Neira, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health. “We are confident,” she asserted last year, “that based on the fact that this pollution can be reduced, [the] Indian government, which has an enormous amount of expertise and competence will be doing their best to tackle the sources of pollution, to reduce the toxic levels that the citizens are exposed to at the moment, and start to monitor how the health situation of their citizens will be improved.
“It is just the question of deciding to implement it as soon as possible because the more we delay those measures; the more we will have problems.”
The effects of pollution on health are profound. Not only is air pollution damaging to the lungs, evidence has been uncovered linking the exposure to pollution to heart disease, diabetes and dementia. The elevated risks can be attributed to the inflammation caused by the inhalation of particulate matter. The health effects are one of the more immediate impacts of the damage humanity is dealing to the environment, with more repercussions anticipated should we fail to alter our attitude to emissions.