Delhi no longer world’s most polluted city

13 May 2016


Delhi residents, struggling to get a lungful of breathable air, can take whatever consolation there is in the fact that theirs is no longer the most polluted city in the world, as it was till the last count.


That dubious distinction is now taken by Zabol in Iran, according to the latest air quality report released by the World Health Organization.

But India is still home to four of the five worst cities in terms of air quality.

The data is from 2013, but the Delhi government has sent out a statement exulting in a "definitive positive trend" for the city.

The WHO data measures the PM 2.5 levels, or the amount of particulate matter under 2.5 micrograms found in a cubic metre of air.

New Delhi was the survey's ninth worst city, with an annual average PM2.5 measurement of 122.

The dirtiest air was recorded at Zabol, which suffers from months of dust storms in the summer, and which clocked a PM2.5 measure of 217. The next four were all Indian  - Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna and Raipur.

Tiny particulate matter can cause lung cancer, strokes and heart disease over the long term, as well as triggering symptoms such as heart attacks that kill more rapidly. The WHO says more than 7 million premature deaths occur every year due to air pollution, 3 million of them due to outdoor air quality.

New Delhi was ranked worst in 2014 with a PM2.5 reading of 153 - the data was recorded two years earlier. After the shock of emerging as the world's worst, the city has tried aid measures to tackle its toxic air, like limiting the use of private cars on the road for short periods.

Maria Neira, head of public health, environmental and social determinants of health at the WHO, praised India's government for developing a national plan to deal with the problem when others have been unable to.

"Probably some of the worst cities that are the most polluted ones in the world are not included in our list, just because they are so bad that they do not even have a good system of monitoring of air quality, so it's unfair to compare or give a rank," she said.

Common causes of air pollution include too many cars, especially diesel-fuelled vehicles, the heating and cooling of big buildings, waste management, agriculture and the use of coal or diesel generators for power.

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