Delhi has surpassed Beijing as the world’s most polluted city. According to India’s Center for Science and Environment, the Indian city of 17 million averaged 575 micrograms per cubic meter of the airborne pollutant PM2.5 in November and December of last year. In comparison, Beijing in the same time frame averaged 400 micrograms per cubic meter. PM2.5 is an atmospheric particulate that is known to cause cancer and bronchial disease in humans. The high density of this particulate is due to heavy vehicle emissions and the large scale consumption of fossil fuels, especially coal, by various industries.
The study claimed that Delhi’s level of PM2.5 was over 20 times the level recognized as safe to people by the World Health Organization. Such a high level of PM2.5 is considered hazardous because it can cause aggravation of heart and lung disease, premature death for elderly persons and those with heart problems, and presents a serious risk of respiratory problems to the general population. United States embassies around the world warn that people subjugated to this level of PM2.5 should avoid all outdoor physical activity. More at risk members of the population are advised to stay indoors.
India’s capital adds around 1,400 vehicles to its already congested streets each day and many of these are not subject to strict environmental regulations. India’s Center for Science and Environment applauded recent measures taken by Beijing that are having a positive effect on the levels of pollutants. Delhi has not only surpassed Beijing as the world’s most polluted city, but is likely to remain in the top spot until better environmental policy is adopted. India itself is growing at an astronomical rate, and by 2030 is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation. That being stated, the country was recently ranked at a dismal 155 of 178 by the 2014 Environmental Performance Index. A developing economy and growing population will likely contribute to India’s future environmental woes.
The growing pollution is expected to negatively impact public health for Indian citizens. The Environmental Performance Index, released by Yale University, stated that India’s pollution levels “could be playing havoc with the health of its citizens.” A study by Harvard University claimed that roughly 40% of Delhi’s population experiences respiratory problems, likely a direct result of the large amount of PM2.5 present in the air. The Center for Science and Environment has blamed policy makers for failing to control the situation and has issued dire warnings about the country’s environmental future. Delhi has seen a drastic rise in the amount of smog visible and the pollution can even be seen from space.
Currently, only two Indian cities have met the country’s air quality standards, which are much lower than those of the globally respected World Health Organization. The air quality in nearly 300 Indian cities has been deemed hazardous to human health and scientists believe that data points to more pollution. Delhi has become the most polluted city in India, and it seems that India is likely to become the world’s most polluted nation. Lack of environmental regulation and a developing economy has certainly contributed to this reality, and it is unlikely that the country can reverse this trend in the short term.
By Peter Grazul