General Studies IIIEnvironment and Ecology

World Air Quality Report 2021


Recently, the World Air Quality Report 2021 was released, the report presented an overview of the state of global air quality in 2021.

Key Highlights of Report:

  • Air pollution continued to spike to unhealthy levels in 2021, and New Delhi continues to be the world’s most polluted capital city for the fourth consecutive year
  • The index listed 35 Indian cities with the worst air quality tag for 2021 with Rajasthan’s Bhiwadi topping the list followed closely by Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad.
  • Fourteen other cities in Uttar Pradesh, including the capital Lucknow, Ghaziabad, Kanpur, Meerut, Agra, Amroha, Jaunpur, Varanasi, Noida and Greater Noida, also featured on the list.
    • Notably, these exceeded the WHO PM2.5 limit of 0-5 µg/m³ by over 10-15 times.
  • The report is based on PM2.5 air quality data from 6,475 cities in 117 countries, regions, and territories around the world.

Particulate Matter (PM 2.5)

  1. The Particulate Matter which is 2.5 microns or less in width is called PM 2.5. Given their size, they get easily absorbed deep into the bloodstream upon inhalation. It results in adverse health effects.
  2. According to IQAir, PM 2.5 is the most harmful air pollutant.
  3. The adverse effects of PM 2.5 on human health are significant and include cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, and premature mortality.

The common human-made sources that generate PM 2.5 are:

  • Fossil-fuel powered motor vehicles
  • Power generation
  • Industrial activity
  • Agriculture
  • Biomass burning

About World Air Quality Report 2021

  • It is published by a Swiss Organization, IQAir.
  • It is published globally.
  • In 2020, it assessed PM 2.5 average across 106 countries.
  • In 2019 and 2018, the number of countries evaluated for their air quality were 98 and 69 respectively.
  • The organization compares PM 2.5 levels across the globe by ground-level monitoring stations in real-time. Only PM2.5 monitoring stations with high data availability have been included.
  • The two guidelines as used by the report are:
  • World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guideline for annual PM2.5 exposure – This guideline states that an annual exposure of PM 2.5 that is less than 10 μg/m³ minimizes health risks.
  • The United States Air Quality Index (US AQI)
  • It used to visualize PM 2.5 levels that exceed the WHO target of 10 μg/m³.
  • There are six US AQI levels: – Good, Moderate, Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, and Hazardous.

What is the Need for the Report?

  • Air pollution is now considered to be the world’s largest environmental health threat, accounting for seven million deaths around the world every year.
  • Air pollution causes and aggravates many diseases, ranging from asthma to cancer, lung illnesses and heart disease.
  • The estimated daily economic cost of air pollution has been figured at USD 8 billion, or 3 to 4% of the Gross World Product (GWP)
    • GWP is the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of all the countries in the world equals the total global GDP.
  • Air pollution affects those that are most vulnerable the most. It is estimated that in 2021, the deaths of 40,000 children under the age of five were directly linked to PM2.5 air pollution.
  • Further, in this age of Covid-19, researchers have found that exposure to PM2.5 increases both the risk of contracting the virus and of suffering more severe symptoms when infected, including death.

What is the Indian Scenario?

  • India’s annual average PM2.5 levels reached 58.1 µg/m³ in 2021, ending a three-year trend of improving air quality. India’s annual PM2.5 averages have now returned to pre-quarantine concentrations measured in 2019.
  • India was home to 11 of the 15 most polluted cities in Central and South Asia in 2021.
  • In 2021, Mumbai had recorded Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 annual average of 46.4 microgram/cubic metre – nearly nine times above the World Health Organisation (WHO) limit.

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What are Challenges?

  • Air pollution has a massive impact on human health in India.
  • It is the second biggest risk factor for disease, and the economic cost of air pollution is estimated to exceed USD 150 billion dollars annually.
  • Major sources of air pollution in India include vehicular emissions, power generation, industrial waste, biomass combustion for cooking, the construction sector, and episodic events like crop burning.
  • In 2019, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) enacted the National Clean Air Program (NCAP).
    • The plan seeks to reduce PM concentrations by 20% to 30% by 2024 in all identified non-attainment cities, increase air quality monitoring, and implement a city, regional, and state-specific clean air action plan as well as conduct source apportionment studies.
  • However, the lockdowns, restrictions, and resulting economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult to determine the plan’s impact based on air pollution levels alone.

Some recommendations to combat the menace

  • You can use either artificial or natural purifiers at home. Plants like aloe vera, bamboo palm, golden pothos, peace lily, English ivy, etc. are natural purifiers which can be used as houseplants.
  • Do breathing exercises to strengthen the lungs and help them combat the pollutants.
  • It is proved that foods rich in vitamin E and C are great to reduce the effects of air pollution.
  • Use air masks during the days of high pollution.
  • Fluids help in detoxification of the body, so drink plenty of fluids.

How to lower air pollution footprint

  • Choose cleaner, greener modes of transport such as walking, biking, and riding public transportation.
  • Lower personal energy consumption.
  • Reduce waste by recycling, upcycling, and purchasing less.
  • Help to raise air pollution awareness in your community.

Way Forward

  • Adhering to WHO’s 4 Pillar Strategy: WHO adopted a resolution (2015) to address the adverse health effects of air pollution. There is a need to adhere to a roadmap highlighted under this.
    • This 4-pillar strategy calls for an enhanced global response to the adverse health effects of air pollution. Those four pillars are:
      • Expanding the knowledge base
      • Monitoring and reporting
      • Global leadership and coordination
      • Institutional capacity strengthening
  • Addressing Injustice: There are huge injustices at the heart of the air pollution problem as the Poorer people are also most exposed to air pollution.
    • Thereby, the need to enforce Polluter Pay principle and an environment tax must be levied from industries of polluting in nature.

Initiatives taken by India for Controlling Air Pollution

  • System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) Portal
  • Air Quality Index: AQI has been developed for eight pollutants viz. PM2.5, PM10, Ammonia, Lead, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide.
  • Graded Response Action Plan
  • For Reducing Vehicular Pollution:
    • BS-VI Vehicles,
    • Push for Electric Vehicles (EVs),
    • Odd-Even Policy as an emergency measure
  • New Commission for Air Quality Management
  • Subsidy to farmers for buying Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) Machine

Source: Indian Express

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