Delhi, Kanpur and Varanasi are among the 14 most-polluted cities in the world, a new WHO report released today said even as environment and health experts sounded an alarm about the severity of the problem, saying it is a grim reminder that air pollution is a national health crisis and India needs to do more to tackle it.
But most of the pollution-related deaths are occurring in low and middle income countries in Asia and Africa. It said that 7 million people die every year because of outdoor and household air pollution.
It says that the particles penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, causing diseases including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia. Also, Delhi consistently features in the list of most polluted cities globally.
Ironically, as India's air pollution monitoring network improved in the past few years with more cities being monitored, the number of Indian cities in the top polluters' list zoomed. This could mean that there are more than 3 billion people who are breathing toxic smoke while they cook food in their homes, says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO.
This, the report added is the main source of household air pollution.
It affects urban and rural areas and mostly comes from the inefficient energy use in households, industry, the agriculture and transport sectors, and coal-fired power plants.
The figures on air pollution, contained in the WHO's global report, found Port Talbot had fine particle air pollution levels recorded at 18 micrograms per cubic metre, with the next most polluted United Kingdom areas being Scunthorpe and Salford on 15 micrograms.
The WHO said it was "particularly concerned" about India's pollution levels and urged it to follow the example China had set in striving for cleaner air.
In total, 90 percent of people around the world are breathing polluted air, which kills about seven million annually, the WHO estimated.
Air pollution levels were the highest in the eastern Mediterranean and southeast Asia, where in some areas airborne toxins were five times World Health Organization limits and disproportionately affected the poor and most vulnerable.
WHO's Dr Neira echoed that message, highlighting "an acceleration of political interest in this global public health challenge". The increase in cities recording air pollution data reflects a commitment to air quality assessment and monitoring.
"The smaller cities have very poor air-quality management capability and majority are also in the northern belt, which we know have inherent adverse geographical features because they are landlocked", said Anumita Roychowdhury, an executive director at the Center for Science and Environment think-tank.
On some days, the air pollution in Srinagar is worse than that of Delhi and overall as bad as Kolkata.
He warned that if urgent action on air pollution is not taken, "we will never come close to achieving sustainable development".
Fourteen Indian cities are among the world's 20 most polluted, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.
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