Different Air Under One Sky: The Inequity Air Research
This report was published by Greenpeace, India, on September 2, 2022. It was written by Yung-Jen Chen, Aidan Farrow and Jiao Wang, researchers associated with Greenpeace with contributions from Miao-Jung Chien, Joy Chiang and Lee Kuen Tan.
Recent research estimates air pollution to have overwhelming health risks which contribute to around 4-9 million premature deaths across the globe every year. The countries most affected fall into the low and middle-income categories.
This report focuses on the harmful effects of small particulate matter, particularly PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 micrometres or smaller). It identifies three especially vulnerable groups (infants, pregnant people and older adults) across seven surveyed countries and records how unequal access to resources and unequal levels of exposure indicate a barrier to achieving full human rights for all people.The 69-page report covers seven countries in separate sections: India (Section 1); Malaysia (Section 2); Thailand (Section 3); Philippines (Section 4); Indonesia (Section 5); Türkiye (Section 6); and South Africa (Section 7).
More than 90 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas where the air quality is worse than the acceptable levels outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO). Moreover, more than 99 per cent of the population of the countries included in this report were breathing air that exceeded WHO guidelines concerning PM2.5.
Among the countries considered in this report, India recorded the highest proportion of people exposed to PM2.5 in concentrations of 25 or more micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3), that is, more than five times the WHO guidelines. The other countries with high percentages of people exposed to such concentrations of PM2.5 were Türkiye, Thailand and South Africa.
The report also found that in most of the countries included, over 50 per cent of the population lacked access to an air quality station within 25 kilometres.
Almost 100 per cent of Indians breathe air that has PM2.5 concentrations of more than 5 μg/m3 annually. Additionally, estimates suggest that 95 per cent of the population is exposed to annual average PM2.5 of over 25 μg/m3. Furthermore, almost 57 per cent of people in the country are exposed to annual average concentrations exceeding 50 μg/m3.
The highest concentration of particulate matter is recorded in northern India where pollution from man-made sources is added to desert dust, the report notes.
The Indian states or union territories recording highest pollution exposure (μg/m3) include the National Capital Territory of Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Tripura, Punjab, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Chandigarh, Odisha, Gujarat and Uttarakhand.
Jammu and Kashmir was the only state or union territory in the country with areas that recorded air quality in keeping with WHO guidelines. However, less than one per cent of the territory’s population resides in those areas.
Annual average exposure to over 50 μg/m3 of PM2.5 was recorded in high numbers among vulnerable groups such as older adults (53 per cent), infants (61 per cent) and pregnant people (62 per cent).
About 70 per cent of the country’s total population does not have access to air quality stations managed by the Central Pollution Control Board within 25 kilometres. States and union territories with the best access to air quality monitoring stations were Chandigarh, National Capital Territory of Delhi, Puducherry, Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Mizoram, Manipur, Gujarat, Tripura, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland and Punjab.
The report advocates for better systems to monitor air quality and calls for the data to be made public in real time. It also recommends revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to meet present day needs.
Focus and Factoids by Aadi Sardesai.
PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
Yung-Jen Chen, Aidan Farrow and Jiao Wang
02 Sep, 2022