The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates one person dies of air pollution-related causes in India every two minutes. The headlines in newspapers and TV news have focussed mostly on the smog over New Delhi in the recent weeks.
But, it is not just the residents of the national capital who are succumbing to air quality or the lack thereof. You are no better off if you live in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, or Chennai. You and your dear ones are dying faster than you would in places with cleaner air.
The following analysis of air pollution data, easily available with the wide use of air quality monitoring technology, together with a health event I recently went through, tells us how we Indians court significantly impaired lives — or even death— each day we continue to live in our large, polluted cities.
I split my time between Delhi and Bengaluru. I have the best of both worlds — the greenery, parks, wide roads of the national capital and the weather, gentle people, young energy of India’s tech capital.
Or, so I thought.
About two weeks before Diwali, I was hit by a nasty bout of asthma in Delhi. I was asthmatic as a schoolboy and have had occasional episodes of breathlessness in my adult life, but this one was the worst I had been in some 10 years. I didn’t have to get into hospital, but for about 10 sleep-challenged days, I had to go through nebulisation, steroids, shots, and bronchodilators that made my lungs feel like a stretched rubberband.
About two weeks before Diwali, I was hit by a nasty bout of asthma in Delhi. I didn’t have to get into hospital, but for about 10 days, I had to go through nebulisation, steroids, shots, and bronchodilators that made my lungs feel like a stretched rubberband
I decided to look up the pollution numbers of the two cities. Air quality is normally measured by an index of five pollutants: particulate matter or fine dust, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ground-level ozone.
But, what about fine dust — which my doctor says is the primary trigger for my asthma? And, how do Indian cities rate against peers globally on this metric? The only comparable data for this is from the WHO, which tracks fine dust in 3,000 cities across 103 countries. First, some good news even if it is so in a twisted way: 98% of cities in low and middle income countries do not meet WHO standards for air quality.
WHO calls air pollution, caused by high concentrations of fine dust, “the greatest environmental risk to health — causing more than 3 million premature deaths worldwide every year”