- The National Capital Region (NCR) in particular is experiencing a severe air pollution crisis, and Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) has reached concerning levels.
- The declining quality of the air has resulted in some limitations, such as Delhi’s odd-even program, and the Bombay High Court has acknowledged the inadequate air quality in Mumbai.
Pollutants of Concern
- Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), which is mostly produced by fuel combustion, nitrogen dioxide from automobile traffic, ground-level ozone from sunlight reacting with pollutants, and sulfur dioxide from burning fossil fuels are major pollutants that are causing issues for public health.
- While air pollution is declining in developed economies, it is rising in emerging and industrializing economies.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) issues a warning that about 90% of people worldwide breathe air that is overly toxic, mostly impacting low- and middle-income nations.
Global Response to Air Pollution
- Recognizing air pollution as a global concern, the World Health Assembly adopted Resolution 68.8, “Health and the environment: Addressing the health impact of air pollution,” in 2015.
- Eight million fatalities worldwide were linked to air pollution, with Delhi being the most polluted city. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, and Pakistan are among the nations that are experiencing elevated levels of small particulate matter.
- The resolution called for the reduction of emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and black carbon as well as the development of cleaner public transportation and sustainable energy sources.
Measuring Air Quality
- The Air Quality Index (AQI), which divides air quality into various ranges with corresponding descriptors and color codes, is used to measure air quality.
- There are six categories in India’s National Air Quality Index Standard (NAQI), with readings of 430 and higher being classified as “severe”. Delhi’s PM2.5 levels are well above WHO recommendations.
India’s National Clean Air Programme
- India’s National Clean Air Programme was initiated in 2019 with the goal of achieving a 20–30% reduction in PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations by 2024.
- The program includes a number of actions, such as lowering vehicle pollution, enhancing public transportation, addressing emissions from industry, managing trash, keeping an eye on ambient air quality, and regulating the burning of agricultural residue.
Health Consequences of Air Pollution
- Chronic illnesses and cancer are exacerbated by oxidative stress and inflammation, which are linked to air pollution.
- Cancer, heart disease, lung conditions, diabetes, obesity, and problems with the immune and neurological systems are among the health effects of it.
- There is a connection between neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and air pollution.
Vulnerability of Children
- Children are particularly susceptible to air pollution because of their developing lungs, their inability to detoxify pollutants, the presence of neurotoxic chemicals that impair brain development, and their higher rates of inhalation.
- Mothers who were exposed to air pollution while pregnant had an increased chance of preterm birth and low birth weight babies.
Social Gradient in Air Quality
- There is frequently a social gradient in the quality of the air; higher pollution levels are seen in more impoverished places.
- Particulate and ozone levels have no acceptable thresholds, which highlights the necessity of stricter air quality regulations and their enforcement.
The Odd-Even Scheme and Its Effectiveness
- Although Delhi has used the odd-even strategy to reduce air pollution, its long-term efficacy is questioned.
- Research points to modest drops in particle matter, but there hasn’t been much of an improvement in overall air quality.
- Similar reports from other megacities cast doubt on the effectiveness of the plan.
A One Health Approach
- Once centered on infectious diseases, the One Health approach now includes environmental factors such as air pollution.
- It acknowledges the direct effects of decisions made on land, air, and water on the health of people, animals, and ecosystems.
- There is growing agreement on the shift from city-centric to airshed-centric approaches to air quality management, wherein local meteorological and terrain impact the dispersion of pollutants.
- Building on these synergies, India’s National Clean Air Programme could tackle pollution within the framework of tackling climate change and adopting the One Health concept.