9 of World's 10 most air-polluted cities in South Asia, deadly air causes 2 million premature deaths - World Bank

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published Published on Jan 18, 2023   modified Modified on Jan 18, 2023

Urgent action needed to curb deadly air pollution in South Asia

A new report by the World Bank states that Nine out of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution are in South Asia. Ambient air pollution is a public health crisis for South Asia, not only imposing high economic costs but also causing an estimated 2 million premature deaths each year. The health impacts of air pollution range from respiratory infections to chronic diseases, and from serious discomfort to morbidity and premature mortality. 

The report, which was released in December 2022, says that some of the main causes of air pollution in South Asia are unique to the region. These include: solid fuel combustion for cooking and heating; small industries, including brick kilns; burning high-emission solid fuels; management practices of municipal waste, including burning plastics; the inefficient application of mineral fertilizer; fireworks; and human cremation. Significant air pollution in South Asia is also generated in agriculture, including through the generation of secondary particulate matter in the form of ammonia (NH) emissions from imbalanced fertilizer use and livestock manure
that reacts with nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO) gases from energy, industry, and transportation sources. 

The World Health Organization’s air quality guideline recommends that concentrations of PM2.5 — small dust or soot particles — should not exceed an annual average of 5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). But in South Asia, nearly 60 percent of the population lives in areas where concentrations of PM2.5 exceed an annual mean of35 μg/m3. In the densely populated Indo-Gangetic Plain, it is over 20 times the level that the WHO considers healthy (100 μg/m3 in several locations). 

The report offers a three-phased roadmap for decreasing air pollution.

Phase 1: Expanding the monitoring of air pollution beyond the big cities, sharing data with the public, creating or strengthening credible scientific institutes that analyze airsheds, and taking a whole-of-government approach.

Phase 2: Abatement interventions are broadened beyond the traditional targets of powerplants, large factories and transportation. During this phase major progress can be made in reducing air pollution from agriculture, solid waste management, cookstoves, brick kilns, and other small firms. 

Phase 3: Economic incentives are finetuned to enable private-sector solutions, to address distributional impacts, and to exploit synergies with climate change policies. In this phase trading of emission permits can also be introduced to optimize abatement across jurisdictions and firms.

Please click here to read the report

World Bank, 14 December, 2022, https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/099030312132233780/pdf/P1682370b4ac4a0270ac2702e1cfb704198.pdf

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