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  • 22 December, 2022

  • 5 Min Read

Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia

Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia: World Bank Report

Striking for Clean Air: Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia is a recent report from the World Bank.

  • The report explains how continuing to implement national policies as they have been (largely since 2018) will produce results, but not at the level desired.

Major Findings

  • India: There are six significant airsheds in India, some of which are shared with Pakistan.
  • Even if Delhi National Capital Territory adopted all available air pollution control measures by 2030, other regions of South Asia would still be subject to the same regulations, which would result in pollution exposure levels above 35 g/m3.
  • South Asia: Currently, an average of 35 g/m3 of PM2.5 is inhaled annually by over 60% of South Asians.
  • It spiked to as much as 100 g/m3 in some areas of the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP), which is more than 20 times the World Health Organization's recommended upper limit of 5 g/m3.

The six significant airsheds in South Asia where the quality of the air varied from one to the next were:

  • West/Central IGP that included Punjab (Pakistan), Punjab (India), Haryana, part of Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh.
  • Central/Eastern IGP: Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bangladesh;
  • Middle India: Odisha/Chhattisgarh;
  • Middle India: Eastern Gujarat/Western Maharashtra;
  • Northern/Central Indus River Plain: Pakistan, part of Afghanistan; and
  • Southern Indus Plain and further west: South Pakistan, Western Afghanistan extending into Eastern Iran.

More Facts:

  • In South Asia, dangerously high levels of air pollution have led to a serious public health crisis that necessitates immediate action.
  • Bhutan: Bhutan is not immune to the air pollution that is present in the IGP, and the situation is getting worse in Thimphu.
  • As a result, no one in the area is untouched and we are now seeing pollutants from other parts of the world. If there is particulate pollution in the mountains, it will come down when the glaciers melt and then go into the oceans.
  • Nine of the ten cities in the world with the worst air pollution are located in South Asia, and the region as a whole suffers from an estimated 2 million premature deaths each year as well as significant economic costs.

Contingent Matter:

  • Some of the poorest and most densely populated areas in the region have PM 2.5 concentrations that are up to 20 times higher than what the WHO considers healthy (5 g/m3). These concentrations include soot and small dust.

Air pollution causes:

  • Around the world, big industries, power plants, and automobiles are the main contributors to air pollution, but in South Asia, other sources add significantly more.
  • Burning of municipal and agricultural waste, cremation, emissions from small industries like brick kilns, and the use of solid fuels for cooking and heating are a few of these.

Pollution and wind direction:

  • When the wind was primarily from the northwest to the southeast, Pakistan's Punjab Province was responsible for 30% of the air pollution in Indian Punjab.
  • Dhaka, Chittagong, and Khulna, Bangladesh's three largest cities, each had 30% of their air pollution come from India.
  • In some years, a significant amount of pollution crossed international boundaries.

Airshed strategy:

  • This is how the issue has been handled in other regions, such as ASEAN, the Nordic countries, and China as a whole.
  • If states want to lower air pollution for their citizens, they must stop pointing the finger and adopt a cooperative strategy.


  • Governmental actions can lower particulate matter, but significant airshed-wide reductions require coordinated policies.
  • The Delhi National Capital Territory will not be able to reduce a pollution exposure below 35 g/m3 even if all air pollution control measures are not fully implemented by 2030 in other parts of South Asia too.
  • However, pollution would drop below that level if other regions of South Asia followed suit and implemented all practical measures.
  • Changing Approach: To enhance air quality and lower pollutants to levels deemed acceptable by the WHO, South Asian nations including India must change their approaches to the "Airshed approach".

Close Coordination Is Necessary:

  • In order to effectively reduce air pollution, local and national jurisdictional boundaries must work closely together in addition to addressing the problem's specific sources.
  • Regional collaboration can assist with the implementation of affordable joint strategies that capitalise on the interdependence of air quality.
  • The most cost-effective option, which calls for complete coordination between airsheds, would reduce South Asia's average PM 2.5 exposure to 30 g/m3 at a cost of USD 278 million per g/m of reduced exposure and save more than 7,50,000 lives yearly.

Way Forward

  • While the government has already taken steps to reduce particulate matter, the significant reduction will only be possible if the regions spanning the airsheds adopt coordinated policies.
  • A modelling strategy should be used to examine various scenarios for South Asia as a whole.
  • When weighing different avenues for pollution control, it is important to take into account the interdependence of air quality within South Asian airsheds.
  • In order to combat air pollution with a "airshed approach," scientists from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and other South Asian nations must have a dialogue about the issue.

Source: The Hindu

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