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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs