Just as bad: Latest satellite analysis of 6 regions across India has revealed air pollution in rural India is almost as bad as it is in its cities | Photo: Reuters/Altaf Hussain

Study: Air pollution levels in rural India almost as bad as metros

A new Indo-US study concluded that rural India is no better than the cities when it comes to inhaling toxic air.  The Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay and Colorado State University study calculated the amount of PM 2.5 in six regions across India from satellite data. The Indo-Gangetic plain was the most polluted, with a PM 2.5 level of 100 micrograms per cubic meter throughout the year, while in the non-urban areas of the same zone, the contaminant level was in excess of 90 micrograms. 

Scientists said there was barely any difference between urban and non-urban areas in eastern and southern India. In southern India, PM 2.5 concentrations in rural areas ranged 30–50 micrograms as against the urban average of 50 micrograms. The researchers estimated that air pollution killed over 10.5 lakh people owing to heart and lung diseases every year. Out of this, 69% of the deaths are in non-urban areas. Over seven lakh people die annually due to air pollution in rural areas.

Centre to release budget money to fight air pollution based on performance of states?

The central government will release funds allocated to states to fight air pollution based on ‘performance targets’, reported the Hindu. Last week the centre released half — ₹2,200 crore — of budgetary allotment to states for combating air pollution. According to the report the environment ministry has been setting up the performance parameters while the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs will disburse the funds.  In February, the government announced ₹4,400 crore for large cities having a population of above one million for 2020-2021. 

The second instalment would be released in January 2021 against performance-based outcomes in terms of year-on-year improvement in air quality, the Hindu reported. The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) envisages 102 of India’s most polluted cities reducing air pollution by 20-30% by 2024 with a reference year of 2017. 

New central panel meets Delhi govt MLAs, vows to take steps to curb air pollution 

The newly-appointed Commission for Air Quality Management said it will take steps to lessen air pollution in the national capital, including formulation of appropriate policies and strategies, to control stubble burning. The commission met Delhi government representatives, who urged the panel to hold chief ministers of Punjab and Haryana responsible for causing pollution in the Capital city. Meanwhile, the Delhi health minister blamed stubble burning for the spike in COVID-19 deaths in the city.

The Delhi government wants Haryana and Punjab to implement the solution by the Pusa Institute and the Delhi government that can turn crop residue into manure in 15 to 20 days. The 20-member commission, headed by former chief secretary of Delhi, M M Kutty, was formed by the Union environment ministry on November 5, within a week of issuing an ordinance to set it up.

Spike in air pollution increased emergency room visits by children by around 30%: Study

A two-year study in Delhi revealed that rising air pollution levels corresponded to an increase in visits by children to hospital emergency rooms (ER) for treatment of acute respiratory infections. A rise in PM10 and PM2.5, however, was least correlative with emergency room visits for treatment of respiratory illnesses. Researchers said the lower association of particulate matter was because its health effects are not always immediately visible.

The study analysed hospital visits of as many as 19,120 children from June 2017 to February 2019. The study stated that there was a roughly 21%-28% increase in visits by children manifesting symptoms of acute respiratory disease during days of ‘high’ and ‘moderate’ level pollution, compared to days of ‘low pollution’. The pollutants most strongly linked with more ER respiratory visits were sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. 

Official data reveals European governments failing to protect citizens from toxic air 

According to data released by the European Environment Agency, governments across Europe are failing to prevent toxic air pollution, with most Europeans still breathing filthy air in their cities. Pollutants from farming, domestic heating and vehicles are over the safe limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is despite EU legislation, government pledges and years of campaigning. According to data, only Ireland, Iceland, Finland and Estonia showed levels of fine particulate matter – one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution – that were below the WHO guidelines in 2018.

Exposure to such pollution caused about 417,000 premature deaths across Europe – including non-EU member states – in 2018. The EEA found that 60,000 fewer people died prematurely in 2018 than in 2009 from fine particulate matter pollution.

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