Air Pollution : Death Hanging in Air - Daily Current Affair Article

Context: Updation of air quality guidelines by WHO

Clean air in fundamental to health. But due to drastic increase in air pollution, after gap of 15 years, the WHO released an updated version of Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) outlining the air quality levels to protect the health of populations based on latest scientific evidence from across the world. WHO's a new guideline recommends air quality levels for 6 pollutants which are not just health hazards but also give rise to other damaging pollutants. They are PM, Ozone, Nitrogen dioxide, Sulfur Dioxide and carbon monoxide. It has further lowered the recommended levels of pollutants considered safe for human health. The goal of guidelines is all country should achieve recommended air quality level though it is not legally bending. It sets the stage for eventual shifts in policy of the government towards evolving never stricter standards.

Status of Pollution in India:

India continues to remain one of the most polluted areas in the world with 37 of world's most polluted cities are found in India. Greenpeace study found average concentration of PM 2.5 in New Delhi in 2020 to be nearly 17 times higher than the recommended levels. Among 61 global megacities Calcutta recorded the highest number of premature deaths caused by coal-fired thermal power plants in 2019. In Mumbai pollution levels were 8 times higher and in Chennai 5 times higher. According to NOAA report released in April 2021, the rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide CO2 was 412.5 parts per million in 2020 rising the 2.6 ppm during the year. According to recent state of Global Air Report more than 950,000 premature death in India reported due to presence of particulate matter in the air. According to experts of Global Burden of Disease study, over 95% of India's population already lived in areas where pollution levels were higher than WHO's norms. India lost 1.67 million lives in 2019 due to breathing polluted air.

Effect of Air Pollution on Human Health:

Air pollution is one of the biggest environment threat to human health alongside climate change.

  • Exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million premature death & loss of million more healthy years of life.
  • In children it leads to reduced lung growth function and aggravated asthma.
  • Heart disease and stroke becoming most common cause of premature death in adults because of outdoor air pollution.
  • Emerging effect of air pollution are diabetes and neurodegenerative conditions.
  • Exposure of pollutions such as PM 2.5 is as bad as smoking for foetus leading to increase in no. of premature birth, low birth rate, and miscarriage cognitive impairment.
  • Raises the risk to children's immune systems leading to death toll greater than that of TB, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.
  • Exacerbates ailments like depression.
  • Exposure to ozone leads to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Effect of Air Pollution on Economy:

  • A 2019 study found that India's severe air quality erased 3% of its GDP for the year causing loss of nearly Rs. 7 lakh crore.
  • Employees failing to show up at work.
  • Fewer people stepping out to buy goods.
  • Foreign tourists staying away after health warning leading to loss of job in tourism industry.
  • Poor air quality offsets 67% of cost advantage of using solar panels over grid powers as ground level smog and particulate matter chokes power output of solar panels.
  • Prolonged exposure to PM & ozone reduces crop yield for wheat and rice by 25%.
  • Air pollution leads to flight disruption.
  • Economic burden due to rising costs of public health care according to World Bank.
  • Puhses talent to work in other cities in India or abroad according to ASSOCHAM.

Way forward:

  • Cities need to work together with the rural areas around them as in river pollution there is need to manage pollution from source to sea.
  • Need to reduce traffic emission, emissions from agriculture & residential burning.
  • Policy encouraging change in public lifestyle to cleanse the air.
  • Investment in renewable energy need to be increased manifold. A transition to 100% renewable energy could generate 18-27% more jobs across India.
  • Easy and cheap availability of renewable source of energy making it accessible to middle and lower class people.
  • Increase funding and improving quality of transportation (Electric Vehicles).
  • Need of integrated waste collection system compounded with decentralized solid waste management system.
  • Need of investment in clean technologies.
  • Proper urban planning with initiatives like planting trees, creating green spaces, developing infrastructure accessible to all for cycling, designing low-emission zones.
  • In order to mitigate the effects of air pollution on children and caregivers, cities must measure air quality.
  • To have effective & efficient ambient air quality monitoring network.
  • Public participation in both planning and implementation of the programmes and policies of government on air pollution.
  • To have a management plan for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.

Major Initiatives under NCAP are

  • Augmenting Air Quality Monitoring Network
  • Air Quality Forecasting System
  • Setting up Air Information Centre
  • 3 tier mechanism for review of monitoring, assessment and inspection for implementation.
  • National Emission Inventory.
  • Technology Assessment Cell.
  • International Cooperation including sharing of International Best Practices on Air Pollution.
  • Intensive Awareness, Training and Capacity Building Drive.
  • Technology Support.
  • Indoor Air Pollution Monitoring and Management.
  • Air Pollution Health Impact Studies.
  • Extensive Plantation Drive.
  • Institutional Framework.


  • 99% of all the global population breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limit.
  • 4.2 million Deaths every year occur as a result of exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution.
  • 3.8 million Deaths every year as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cook stoves and fuels.
  • Exposure to PM 2.5 kills 3.3 million people every year most from Asia.
General Studies Paper 3
  • Environment