Clean air in India- a distant dream

WHOWHO has issued the new Global Air Quality Guidelines on September 22 according to which almost every Indian is breathing polluted air.

According to the new WHO Air Quality Guidelines issued on September 22, most Indians breathe polluted air.

Delhi-World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued the new Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) to combat the threat of air pollution worldwide which enumerates the ideal air quality levels based on latest scientific research conducted globally. The new guidelines have been issued 15 years after the last update which was made in 2005.

The guidelines were launched on WHO’s youtube channel by Dr Tedros, Director General, WHO

According to the WHO, nearly seven million people die every year from air pollution. The UN body has relied on research pertaining to the negative impact of air pollution on human health. As per the data provided by WHO after a careful review of the evidence, the organisation has adjusted almost all the AQGs levels downwards.

Particulate matter equal to or smaller than 10 (PM 10) and measuring 2.5 (PM 2.5) micrometers in diameter– which is less than one thirteenth the width of human hair strand– which is less than one thirteenth the width of human hair strand-pose serious concern to our health. They can enter the lungs as well as bloodstream, leading to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases

As per the new WHO guidelines, the annual average for Particulate Matter- PM 10 should not exceed 15 micrograms per cubic metre of air, while the 24-hour average should not exceed 45 micrograms per cubic metre. The previous limit as per the 2005 guidelines was 20 micrograms per cubic metre annually and 50 micrograms per cubic metre in a day.

Looking at the parameters set in the new air pollution guidelines almost all of India falls in the polluted category. According to Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Centre for Science and Environment, the guidelines emphasize on the protection of health and not the achievement of the new levels.

What scientific evidence is now showing is that these air pollutants are harmful to the health at much lower levels than what was understood in 2005,” she said. Therefore most citizens according to the new guidelines breathe polluted air. As per a report issued by the University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) the pollution levels in north India are more than anywhere else in the world.

Column chart
Air quality levels in most North Indian cities in 2020.

The WHO believes that countries which emphasize on strong policies to combat air pollution have witnessed a marked improvement in air quality. Therefore policy initiative on behalf of the Indian government is important to combat this threat and protect future generations from the vagaries of air pollution.