14 out of world’s 20 most polluted cities in India, reports WHO

Delhi and Varanasi are among the 14 Indian cities that figured in a list of 20 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM2.5 levels in 2016, data released by the WHO showed today. The WHO data also said that nine out of 10 people in the world breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Other Indian cities that registered very high levels of PM2.5 pollutants were Kanpur, Faridabad, Gaya, Patna, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Patiala and Jodhpur followed by Ali Subah Al-Salem in Kuwait and a few cities in China and Mongolia.

According to the report, more than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (including India), mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.

“Around 3 billion people ? more than 40 per cent of the worlds population ? still do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution,” it said.

It said the WHO recognises air pollution is a critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), causing an estimated 24 per cent of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25 per cent from stroke, 43 per cent from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29 per cent from lung cancer.

The report, however, stated countries are making efforts and taking measures and in this context, referred to Indias Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, which it said, in just two years, has provided 37 million women living below the poverty line with free LPG connections to support them to switch to clean household energy use.

India targets to reach 80 million households by 2020.

“Many of the world’s megacities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than 5 times, representing a major risk to people’s health,” Maria Neira, director of the Department of Public Health, Social and Environmental Determinants of Health at WHO, said, adding, there is an acceleration of political interest to deal with this global public health challenge.”Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden. It is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – most of them women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.

Major sources of air pollution from particulate matter include inefficient use of energy by households, industry, agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants. In some regions, sand and desert dust, waste burning and deforestation are additional sources of air pollution. “Air pollution does not recognise borders. Improving air quality demands sustained and coordinated government action at all levels,” the WHO said.

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