Friday, January 27, 2012

Study Finds India's Air Most Toxic in the World

With a score of just 3.73 out of 100, India ranks as the worst country for the ill effects of toxic air pollution on human health among 132 nations, according to a report presented at the World Economic Forum 2012. India's neighbors also score poorly for toxic air pollution, but still significantly better than India. For example China scores 19.7, followed by Pakistan (18.76), Nepal (18.01) and Bangladesh (13.66).

In the overall rankings based on 22 policy indicators, India finds itself ranked at 125 among the bottom ten environmental laggards such as Yemen, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iraq while Pakistan ranks slightly better at 120. The indicators used for this ranking are in ten major policy categories including air and water pollution, climate change, boidiversity, and forest management.

These rankings are part of a joint Yale-Columbia study to index the nations of the world in terms of their overall environmental performance. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia's Center for International Earth Science Information Network have brought out the Environment Performance Index rankings every two years since 2006.

The Yale-Columbia study confirms that environmental problems in South Asia are growing rapidly. The increasing consumption by rapidly growing population is depleting natural resources, and straining the environment and the infrastructure like never before. Soil erosion, deforestation, rapid industrialization, urbanization, and land and water degradation are all contributing to it.

It's important to remember that Bhopal still remains the worst recorded industrial accident in the history of mankind. As India, Pakistan and other developing nations vie for foreign direct investments by multi-national companies seeking to set up industries to lower their production costs and increase their profits, the lessons of Bhopal must not be forgotten.

It is the responsibility of the governments of the developing countries to legislate carefully and enforce strict environmental and safety standards to protect their people by reversing the rapidly unfolding environmental degradation. Public interest groups, NGOs and environmental and labor activists must press the politicians and the bureaucrats for policies to protect the people against the growing environmental hazards stemming from growing consumption and increasing global footprint of large industrial conglomerates.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pak Entrepreneur Recycles Trash into Energy and Fertilizer

Bhopal Disaster

Environmental Pollution in India

Rising Population, Depleting Resources

India Leads the World in Open Defecation

Heavy Disease Burdens in South Asia


Anonymous said...


Studies like this are dime a dozen.

Shams said...

I do not know if you have recently been to Karachi or Lahore. It is true that about 10 years ago the air in Karachi and Lahore was quite toxic, mostly due to diesel buses and 2-stroke motor-bikes and auto-rickshaws. That has all changed due to the use of CNG in literally all vehicles. Pakistan now has the largest number of CNG vehicles in the world - period. The air quality in Karachi is exceptionally good, thanks to all commercial vehicles' use of CNG and the continuous sea breeze. Lahore and other Punjab cities also have reduced pollution, but in the winter, they burn a lot of wood and coal, though not as much as they used to since now they burn natural gas.

What that has done is to remove: sulfur dioxide (SO2); ozone (O3); nitrogen dioxide(NO2); Hydrogen Sulfide; and Ammonia. Clearly where combustion is, CO2 will be there, but with CNG, the days of CO carbon monoxide are also gone. The particulates, such as carbon soot are is also gone.

So - some idiot in the World Economic Forum must have pulled this data out of thin air, likely with bias against Pakistan. Apparently, no new studies have been undertaken..

If you want to publish accurate result, then have someone at PCSIR or Karachi University run some tests - just send them air quality analyzers that cost under $10,000.

Riaz Haq said...

Shams: "I do not know if you have recently been to Karachi or Lahore. It is true that about 10 years ago the air in Karachi and Lahore was quite toxic, mostly due to diesel buses and 2-stroke motor-bikes and auto-rickshaws. That has all changed due to the use of CNG in literally all vehicles...."

I agree with you that world's largest fleet of CNG vehicles is helping, and the air pollution situation would be a lot worse if natural gas was not the primary fuel used for energy in Pakistan.

The situation in Pakistan would probably be as bad as India if Pakistan relied on burning dirty fossil fuels like coal. However, the problem of air pollution from particulates in major Pakistani cities is still quite acute, and obviously visible to the naked eye.

During my travel to Dubai, Karachi and Beijing in 2009, I saw that Karachi was about as bad as Dubai and Beijing in terms of a constant layer of haze that hung over it during summer.

Mukund said...

" As India, Pakistan and other developing nations vie for foreign direct investments by multi-national companies seeking to set up "

LOL. You never cease to imply
Pak == India in FDI. Pls mention the names of American companies who have invested in pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

Mukund: "Pls mention the names of American companies who have invested in pakistan."

There are over 300 foreign multinational companies, including American companies, with operations in Pakistan. And more are coming every year in spite of economic slowdown. Almost all big name American and European companies operate in Pakistan.

Here's an excerpt from a US govt website:

U.S. firms have a strong presence in Pakistan. More than 70 wholly-owned U.S. subsidiaries are registered with the American Business Council (ABC) and American Business Forum (ABF) in Pakistan. There are also hundreds of local firms representing U.S. firms in the market. Leading U.S. businesses in Pakistan include Citibank, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, NCR, Teradata, Pfizer, Abbot, Eli Lilly, Wyeth, DuPont, Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Chevron, 3M, IBM, Apple, Monsanto, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominoes Pizza, and Caterpillar.

Despite security challenges and common emerging market concerns about intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, contract enforcement, and governance issues, the Pakistan market offers many attractive trade and investment opportunities in a broad range of sectors: among others, energy (power generation); transportation (aerospace and railways); information and communications technology; architecture, construction, and engineering; health; environmental technology; agricultural technology; safety and security; franchising; and services.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a NY Times story on India's poor showing for serious pollution:

India has the worst air pollution in the entire world, beating China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, according to a study released during this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

Of 132 countries whose environments were surveyed, India ranks dead last in the ‘Air (effects on human health)’ ranking. The annual study, the Environmental Performance Index, is conducted and written by environmental research centers at Yale and Columbia universities with assistance from dozens of outside scientists. The study uses satellite data to measure air pollution concentrations.

India’s high levels of fine particulate matter (a subject we’ve been looking at on India Ink, albeit just in Delhi) are one of the major factors contributing to the country’s abysmal air quality. Levels of so-called PM 2.5, for the 2.5 micron size of the particulates, are nearly five times the threshold where they become unsafe for human beings.

Particulate matter is one of the leading causes of acute lower respiratory infections and cancer. The World Health Organization found that Acute Respiratory Infections were one of the most common causes of deaths in children under 5 in India, and contributed to 13% of in-patient deaths in paediatric wards in India.

When it comes to overall environment, India ranked among the world’s “Worst Performers,” at No. 125 out of the 132 nations, beating only Kuwait, Yemen, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iraq. Neighboring Pakistan, in contrast, ranked 120th and Bangladesh was listed as No. 115 on overall environment.

It is not just India’s big cities which are grappling with air pollution, said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of India’s Centre for Science and Environment, a non-profit organization which was not involved in the study. Air pollution also is worsening in smaller cities, she said.

The main culprit, Ms. Roychowdhury said, is the growing number of vehicles in India. While the country still has far fewer vehicles per capita than developed nations, India’s cars are more polluting, Ms. Roychowdhury said. Other air pollution experts also cite India’s reliance coal and polluting industries like brick-making that are located close to densely-populated areas.

Emission standards are nearly “10 years behind European standards,” Ms. Roychowdhury said, and these standards are not legally enforceable, unlike in countries like the United States which has the Clean Air Act. India has an Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 which is supposed to be enforced by the Central Pollution Control Board. This act lacks teeth, Ms. Roychowdhury said. “We need to take big steps or the problem will overwhelm us,” she said.

D. Saha, a scientist in the “Air Lab” at India’s Central Pollution Control Board said the study’s findings were not a matter of huge concern.

“We should not compare our country with others,” Dr. Saha said. “India has a different terrain.” He cited seasonal rainfall, deserts and dusty conditions as being responsible for the particulate matter. “Can we put water sprinklers across the country?,” he asked.

Particulate matter comes from boilers, thermal power plants and cars, as well, he said, but India would not have development if these activities were curbed, he said. “The diseases mentioned in the report are caused by many factors not just particulate matter, we are raising undue alarm,” Mr. Saha said.

His advice? “It is a non-issue, we have other pressing problems like poverty, focus on them.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's NY Times on pollution in India and China:

The United States space agency published a map in September that showed how rates of premature deaths from air pollution vary around the world. It indicated that northern China has one of the worst rates, attributed to the density of a deadly fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, that often results from coal burning. The map was based on data collected by a research team led by Jason West, an earth scientist at the University of North Carolina.

The map also showed that the rate in northern China — what appears to be about 1,000 or more deaths each year per 1,000 square kilometers, or 386 square miles — is matched by that of northern India, in a diagonal belt stretching from New Delhi southeast to Calcutta. Those acutely polluted areas are colored dark brown on the NASA map. (Europe was perhaps surprisingly colored a deep brown too, though the rate was not as bad as that of the two Asian nations.)

Various recent studies and data suggest that air quality in Delhi is worse than in Beijing, though India’s air pollution problems do not get nearly as much attention on the world stage as those of Beijing. One study shows that Indians have the world’s weakest lungs. The World Health Organization says India has the world’s highest rate of death caused by chronic respiratory diseases, and it has more deaths from asthma than any other nation.

Yet, Indians and foreigners living in Delhi do not express anxiety about the air the way that residents of Beijing and other Chinese cities do. Air purifiers are a rarity in homes there, and face masks are generally not seen on the streets. The Indian news media do not cover air pollution to nearly the same extent the Chinese media do. (Government censors in China had blocked widespread coverage of the problem for years, but they loosened the restrictions during an infamous surge in pollution across northern China in January 2013; now even official state-run Chinese news organizations report regularly on air pollution.)
Mr. Krishnan said in an interview that Delhi had been making the same kind of data available to the public well before Chinese officials agreed to release their numbers, and that the Indian numbers proved without a doubt that the air quality in the Indian capital was poor. However, he said, there has never in India been populist demand for the government to change policy to improve the air, as there is now in China.

“I think when you have the sense that they’re hiding something, it galvanizes public attention in a counterintuitive way,” said Mr. Krishnan, who has lived in Beijing since early 2010.

“I don’t think the Indian media has given enough attention to this issue,” he added. “I remember an Indian environmental scholar visited Beijing a few months ago, and he was surprised that pollution was getting so much attention in the press here.”

Coverage of air quality by the Indian news media “will have to change very soon,” Mr. Krishnan said...

Riaz Haq said...

New Delhi’s air is the most polluted in the world, according to an international report that quantifies pollution levels, confirming findings by experts confounded by the lack of attention to the city’s problem.

The findings by the World Health Organization, released on Wednesday, show that the cities ranking second through fourth are also in India, in the central Hindi belt.

For years, experts have wondered why so much international attention has focused on air pollution in Beijing when some say conditions are as bad or even worse in South Asia.

“I am shocked at the extent of the problem they found in India,” said Dr. Sundeep Salvi, the director of the Chest Research Foundation in Pune, India. “This is incredibly bad, and there is a complete lack of awareness about it both amongst policy makers and the common man.”

Riaz Haq said...

The world's top 4 dirtiest cities are all in India.

And half of the top 20 dirtiest cities are India, according to WHO:

Here's an excerpt from a 2014 NY Times story:

New Delhi’s air is the most polluted in the world, according to an international report that quantifies pollution levels, confirming findings by experts confounded by the lack of attention to the city’s problem.

The findings by the World Health Organization, released on Wednesday, show that the cities ranking second through fourth are also in India, in the central Hindi belt.

For years, experts have wondered why so much international attention has focused on air pollution in Beijing when some say conditions are as bad or even worse in South Asia.
China’s extensive pollution problems have grown out of efforts by the country’s leaders to develop manufacturing and industrial capacity no matter the cost. But India has little to show for its toxic air. The country’s economy is sputtering, its small manufacturing sector has been shrinking, and efforts to build roads and open coal and metal mines have foundered on corruption and environmental concerns. Pakistan, which had three cities among the world’s 10 most polluted, has even less to show for its pollution levels, as economic growth there has been well below India’s for decades.

Half of the top 20 cities in the world with the highest levels of PM2.5 were in India, according to the pollution data released by the WHO, which included 1,600 cities. Other cities with high levels were located in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Riaz Haq said...

According to an article published by Bloomberg on Monday, Obama may lose six hours from his expected lifespan after inhaling toxic air in New Delhi during his three-day visit to India (Bloomberg, Post). A World Trade Organization report from last year states that the air quality in New Delhi is the worst in the world with the highest levels of PM2.5 -- toxic particles that cause respiratory ailments and other diseases. In preparation for Obama’s visit, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi ordered 1,800 Swedish air purifiers (PRWeb). Speaking to reporters at a briefing in New Delhi on Monday, John Podesta, Obama’s climate counselor, said: “We weren’t concerned about bringing the president here for these meetings… The president has traveled to many places where the air is bad for one reason or other” (Economic Times).

Riaz Haq said...

Proof of the grave air pollution problem confronting India is seen not just in the suffocating smog that on many days crowds out the sun in New Delhi, the world’s most polluted city. It can be measured as well in the fact that the country has the world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases, which kill an estimated 1.5 million Indians every year. A 2014 World Health Organization report concluded of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, India has 13.

After years of denial and indifference, ordinary Indians appear to be waking up to the dangers of relying on some of the dirtiest energy sources on the planet, including coal, diesel oil and burning garbage, to sustain economic growth and an exploding population. Yet the government has failed to address with any urgency what is indisputably a national health emergency.

And it is more than just a national emergency. The unregulated use of these energy sources adds copious emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. So India’s inaction is a problem for everybody, not just its more than 1.2 billion people.

World leaders are now preparing for a global summit on climate change in Paris in December, where they hope to agree on a global strategy. There have been positive gestures. Three months ago, the United States and China announced a breakthrough deal in which the Americans agreed to new emissions reductions and the Chinese agreed to a date when their emissions would peak. The European Union has made an ambitious pledge to reduce emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.

As the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, India also needs to make a similarly strong commitment to keep the momentum going — not just because its own emissions are large (about 5 percent of the world’s total as of 2011) but because India often speaks for the developing world, and the example it sets will be crucial.

President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India made only modest progress on climate change during their summit in New Delhi last month. Although Mr. Modi said he would make a positive contribution in Paris, there was no specific pledge to cut carbon emissions. Later one of his advisers told The Times that India is hoping to cut a side deal in Paris that would ensure India has “exemptions” from whatever broader agreement is reached. The notion of some kind of carve-out is not at all encouraging.
As Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and now the United Nations envoy for climate change and cities, argued on a visit to New Delhi last week, the notion of a choice between economic development and environmental quality is a false one because “if you don’t focus on the environmental quality you will not be able to fix the economic side.” Therein lies a message for India.

Riaz Haq said...

Mounting evidence that India's poor air quality is cutting short lives is increasing pressure on the government to speed up corrective measures.

The latest pointer to the magnitude of the problem is a study by environmental economists from University of Chicago, Harvard, and Yale. Their report, published on Saturday, says that 99.5% of the Indian population breathes air that has pollutants way above the levels considered to be safe by the World Health Organisation.

In many ..

Read more at:

Riaz Haq said...

The country with the world's worst air #pollution is #India, not #China

It’s a never-ending debate in Asia -- whose air quality is worse, China’s or India’s? A new study by Greenpeace released Monday is trying to answer that question.

Analysts looked at NASA satellite images and found that measurements of particulate matter -- the microscopic particles that invade your lungs and can cause cancer and heart disease -- improved impressively in China over the past few years while air quality in India has worsened, with 2015 ranking as India’s most polluted year on record.

The satellite images showed that the levels of PM2.5 particles decreased by 17 percent in China from 2010 to 2015 and 15 percent in the United States while rising 13 percent in India, the study found.

For the first time, Greenpeace found, the average Indian citizen was exposed to more particulate matter than the average Chinese.

The study also found that the average annual PM2 level for India's capital, New Delhi, was also higher than in Beijing -- an average of 81 for Beijing, 128 for Delhi and 12 for Washington, D.C.

China has made a concerted effort to address its air pollution problem in recent years after widespread public outcry over filthy air that put pressure on the government to release better pollution data. The Greenpeace study credits China’s national pollution action plan launched in 2013 for its “impressive” improvement. That included tightening emission standards for coal-fired power plants and heavy industry and increasing emissions monitoring and enforcement.

However, the study notes that pollution levels in China remain “alarmingly high.”

Meanwhile, in India, public outrage has only just begun to coalesce around the problem. Indian newspapers have run high-profile series on air pollution in recent months and the Delhi government has instituted an odd-even day driving plan this winter to control the worsening air.

The study suggests that India should put in place a pollution action plan that sweeps from Punjab to West Bengal in the northern part of the country, where pollution is the worst, enforce compliance for coal-fired power plants and institute air quality monitoring systems for all major urban centers. India has a dearth of online monitoring systems in place in its cities -- only 39 such stations compared to 1,500 in China, 770 in the United States and 1,000 in Europe, the study found.

Riaz Haq said...

India and China account for more than half of the world’s premature deaths due to air pollution, a new report said.

Noting that India’s lives lost to the tiny particulate matter is “approaching” China’s numbers, the ‘State of Global Air 2017’ report said that among the 10 most populous countries and the European Union (EU), Bangladesh and India have the highest exposure to PM2.5, the “steepest” rise since 2010.

Globally, there was 60 per cent rise in ozone attributable deaths, with a striking 67 per cent of this increase occurring in India.
The ‘State of Global Air 2017’ is the first of a new series of annual reports and accompanying interactive website, designed by Health Effects Institute in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington and University of British Columbia.
In 2015, long-term exposure to PM2.5 contributed to 4.2 million deaths and to a loss of 103 million years of healthy life. China and India together accounted for 52 per cent of the total global deaths attributable to PM2.5.
It found that increasing exposure and a growing and aging population have meant that India now rivals China for among the highest air pollution health burdens in the world, with both countries facing some 1.1 million early deaths due to it in 2015.
According to the report, while 11,08,100 deaths were attributed to PM2.5 exposure in China in 2015, in India, it was 10,90,400.
Around 92 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas with “unhealthy” air.
Bangladesh and India, have experienced the steepest rise in air pollution levels since 2010 and now have the highest PM2.5 concentrations among the countries.
Among the world’s 10 most populous countries and the EU, the biggest increase (14 per cent to 25 per cent) in seasonal average population-weighted concentrations of ozone over the last 25 years were experienced in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Brazil.
China, India, Bangladesh, and Japan increases in exposure, combined with increases in population growth and aging, resulted in net increases in attributable mortality.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India had PM2.5 attributable Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) rates that were 5 to 10 times the lowest rates, which were found in the US and Japan.

Riaz Haq said...

One of #India’s #trash mountains is on fire again & residents are choking on its #toxic fumes. Firefighters in city of #Kochi in the south are toiling to control toxic fumes from spreading after a landfill burst into flames 5 days ago #pollution #Modi

Last year, firefighters worked for days to extinguish flames after a fire broke out at Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill – the capital city’s largest.

Standing at 65 meters (213 feet), it is nearly as tall as the historic Taj Mahal, becoming a landmark in its own right and an eyesore that towers over surrounding homes, affecting the health of people who live there.

And methane emissions aren’t the only hazard that stem from the landfill. Over decades, dangerous toxins have seeped into the ground, polluting the water supply for thousands living nearby.

At Bhalswa, one of Delhi’s other large landfills, residents have complained of deep, painful skin gashes and respiratory issues from years of living near the hazardous mound.


The towering Brahmapuram landfill in Kerala state is the country’s latest trash mountain to catch fire, causing dangerous heat and methane emissions, and adding to India’s growing climate challenges.

Authorities advised residents in the city of more than 600,000 to remain indoors or wear N95 face masks if they head outside. Schools were forced to close on Monday as a result of the pollution, officials said.

The blaze broke out last Thursday, according to Kerala’s fire department. The cause has not been established, but landfill fires can be triggered by combustible gases from disintegrating garbage. Images and video released by officials showed workers racing to extinguish the billowing flames that sent thick plumes of toxic smoke rising high into the sky.

While the fire has been largely put out, a thick cloud of smoke and methane gas continues to cover the area, reducing visibility and the city’s air quality, while emitting a lingering, pungent odor.

Some firefighters had fainted from the fumes, the fire department said.

Kerala’s top court said it will take up the case on Tuesday.

India creates more methane from landfill sites than any other country, according to GHGSat, which monitors emissions via satellites. Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide – but it is a more potent contributor to the climate crisis because it traps more heat.

As part of his “Clean India” initiative, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said efforts are being made to remove these mountains of garbage and convert them into green zones. That goal, if achieved, could relieve some of the suffering of those residents living in the shadows of these enormous dump sites – and help the world lower its greenhouse gas emissions.

But while India wants to lower its methane output, it hasn’t joined the 150 countries that have signed up to the Global Methane Pledge, a pact to collectively cut global emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. Scientists estimate the reduction could cut global temperature rise by 0.2% – and help the world reach its target of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

India says it won’t join because most of its methane emissions come from farming – some 74% from farm animals and paddy fields versus less than 15% from landfill.

In 2021, India’s environment minister Ashwini Choubey said pledging to reduce the country’s total methane output could threaten the livelihood of farmers and impact the economy. But environmentalists say the country is facing a dire climate challenge from its steaming mounds of trash.

India’s trash mountains
Brahmapuram is just one of some 3,000 Indian landfills overflowing with decaying waste and emitting toxic gases.