News / Health

India's Air Pollution Triggers Comparisons with China

FILE - A laborer dismantles scaffolding near the India Gate war memorial on a smoggy day in New Delhi.
FILE - A laborer dismantles scaffolding near the India Gate war memorial on a smoggy day in New Delhi.
Anjana Pasricha
In the Indian capital, New Delhi, levels of air pollution hit a new high this winter, triggering concerns about its adverse impact on public health, and particularly on children. Environmentalists compare New Delhi with Beijing, the other major city also grappling with high air pollution, but warn that unlike the Chinese capital, India is not doing enough to tackle the growing problem.
Pediatrician Sanjeev Bagai sees about 50 children every day at a hospital, in an upscale market area in New Delhi. He said nearly half his young patients suffer from respiratory and chest infections related to air pollution. He called the situation “alarming.”
“Numbers have doubled. These children who grow up with COPD, that is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, die earlier. They are predisposed toward heart disease, neurological problems,” said Bagai.
During a decade of economic growth, Delhi has added more cars than any other Indian city, many of them using diesel, a fuel that produces a great deal of pollution. Today, the Indian capital has a staggering 7.5 million vehicles, choking not just its roads, but also its air.
Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director of New Delhi’s Center for Science and Environment, said that in just five years levels of particulate matter, which penetrates deep into the lungs, has gone up by 75 percent. The situation worsens in winter when it is less windy and a mixture of fog, car exhausts, soot and dust shrouds the city in gray smog. 
Roychowdhury said that this winter, “the situation absolutely exploded.” 
“Throughout the winter, the data showed that the levels were two to three times higher than the standards, and the higher ranges reached up to four to seven times the standards. And when we had the special smog episodes, when things were very bad, then the levels would even hit eight to ten times the standard. It was literally a blanket of smog. And this is scary,” said Roychowdhury.
The high air pollution levels have triggered a debate on whether Delhi’s air has become dirtier than that of the Chinese capital, Beijing, which has long been under scrutiny for its dismal air quality among the world’s big cities. Delhi’s comparisons with Beijing began after a study by Yale and Columbia University ranked India at 174 out of 178 countries in air quality.
Environmentalists think what counts is not whether Delhi’s air is more polluted than that of the Chinese capital, but whether the Indian capital is doing enough to tackle a fast-growing problem. 
Roychowdhury is a member of a state body appointed to draft measures to deal with the pollution, and pointed out that while Beijing has taken a wide range of actions to tackle the problem, Delhi has not. For example, Beijing has limited the number of cars that can be sold in the city, scaled up public transport and issues health advisories on bad days. 
“That is exactly what is missing right now in Delhi. [The] Delhi government does not inform people on a daily basis the quality of the air people are breathing, and when levels go very high, the asthmatics, those who are suffering from respiratory problems, cardiac problems, they need to be warned about it. The government should have contingency plans in place and longer term plans to be able to bring down the overall levels. It is not a fight over their levels versus our levels,” said Roychowdhury.    
An action plan formed to tackle air pollution has languished for nearly two years.
Meanwhile, Delhi’s toxic air extracts a heavy price on public health. The World Health Organization said air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India, and the country has the world’s highest death rate because of chronic respiratory problems.
Several studies show that the impact is the worst on the city’s children, whose immune systems are less developed than that of adults.
The most extensive study has been conducted by the Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute, in Kolkata, for the Central Pollution Control Board. The study consisted of 10,000 children across the city from different economic classes and was led by Manas Ranjan Ray. 
“We found that compared with the children from relatively clean air areas, children in Delhi suffer more from lung ailment, bronchitis, bronchial asthma as well as some neurological problems, some behavioral problems. In a nutshell, air pollution in Delhi affects both the physical and mental health of the children,” said Ray.  
The Indian Supreme Court recently heard a petition that said air pollution causes the death of 3,000 children every year in Delhi. It has asked authorities what they are doing about it.  
However, air pollution has yet to become a top issue with either the public or policy makers. With India heading for elections, and the gray smog of winter giving way to clearer skies, there is unlikely to be any quick action to address the issue.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs