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 In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent, Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More