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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs