World Bank report focuses on South Asian air pollution crisis

The organisation has published an in-depth study of air quality in the region, which sees around 2m premature deaths each year due to ambient pollution.

Overall, nine of the world’s 10 most air polluted cities are found in South Asia, with densely populated, low-income areas particularly impacted. Almost 60% of the total population currently live in locations with concentrations of PM2.5 exceeding an annual mean of 35 μg/m3, significantly higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended limit of 5 μg/m3. 

black-and-yellow auto rickshaw on road

While experts are increasingly identifying outdoor air pollution as a transboundary problem, with activities in one country impacting the air quality of another, the new report points to region-specific causes of air pollution driving the South Asian crisis. These include solid fuel combustion in the residential sector (for cooking and heating), small industries with brick kilns, high emission solid fuel burning, plastics burning, inefficient application of mineral fertilisers, fireworks, and human cremation. 

A greater understanding of the activities that emit particulate matter, and how emissions can travel across borders, is now needed in order to successfully control ambient air pollution levels in the region. Six major ‘airsheds’, where pollutants get trapped by climate and geography, have also been identified. These include the West/Central Indo-Gangetic Plain of both Indian and Pakistani Punjab, Haryana, parts of Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh; the Central/Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain (comprising Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Bangladesh); and Middle India’s Odisha/Chhattisgarh and Eastern Gujarat/Western Maharashtra. 

Current policy measures will only be partially successful in reducing PM2.5 concentrations should they be fully implemented, the report states. Worryingly, even if all technically feasible reduction measures were employed, parts of the region would still be unable to meet the WHO’s Interim Target on their own by 2030 due to spatial interdependence of air quality. 

‘Suppose the Delhi National Capital Territory (NCT) were to fully implement all technically feasible air pollution control measures by 2030, while other parts of South Asia continued to follow current policies. This report’s model predicts that the Delhi NCT area would still not meet the WHO Interim Target because the inflow of pollution from outside regions and from natural sources already exceeds 35 μg/m3,’ the World Bank said in its publication. ‘It would, however, meet the WHO Interim Target if other parts of South Asia also adopted all feasible measures. This is also the case with many other cities in South Asia, especially those in the Indo-Gangetic Plain.’ 

You can read the full report here. Last month, Air Quality News published a long-read on how judicial overstretch was used to tackle soaring New Delhi air pollution levels.

Image: Atharva Tulsi




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