63 Indian cities In 100 most polluted places on Earth

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India’s air pollution worsened in 2021, according to the World Air Quality Report released by IQAir, a Swiss firm. This ends a three-year trend of improving air quality. The average air pollution, measured in the lethal and microscopic PM2.5 pollutant, is 58.1 micrograms per cubic meter, which is more than 10 times the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) air quality guidelines. No city in India met the WHO standard.

North India is worse. Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital for the fourth consecutive year, with pollution rising almost 15 per cent over the previous year. Air pollution levels here were almost 20 times above the WHO’s safety limits, with PM2.5 clocking in at 96.4 micrograms per cubic meter for the annual average. The safe limit is 5.

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While Delhi’s air pollution ranks at No. 4 globally, the world’s most polluted place is Rajasthan’s Bhiwadi, followed by Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad on Delhi’s eastern border. Ten of the top 15 most polluted cities are in India and mostly around the national capital.

With 63, Indian cities dominate the list of 100 most polluted places. More than half are in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. An air quality ‘life index’ developed by the University of Chicago shows that residents in Delhi and Lucknow, for instance, could add about a decade to their life expectancy if air quality levels met the WHO’s standards.

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The major sources of air pollution include vehicular emissions, coal-fired power plants, industrial waste, biomass combustion for cooking and the construction sector. In fact, in November last year, several large power plants around Delhi as well as many industries were shut down for the first time because of severe levels of air pollution. The economic cost of the crisis to India is estimated at over $150 billion annually. The health impact is far worse with an estimated three deaths every minute linked to air pollution in addition to heart and lung diseases and many other severe health effects.

All six metro cities except Chennai saw a rise in air pollution levels last year.