By Hugo Barcia and Azad Majumder
New Delhi/Dhaka, Mar 22 (EFE).- New Delhi and Bangladesh led the list of capitals and countries with worst air quality in 2021, respectively, according to the latest annual report by the Swiss air quality tech firm IQAir on Tuesday.
New Delhi and Bangladesh have held the top spots since 2018, the year records started to be compiled.
“When we look at the sources of air pollution in the countries of Bangladesh and India, you mainly have vehicle emissions as sources, power generation, industrial waste, and also biomass combustion that’s often used for cooking,” IQAir North America CEO Glory Dolphin explained to EFE.
“There’s also construction sector, along with agricultural burning. So you’ve got really this combination of sources that really leads to lots of air pollution,” she added.
This problem does not seem to have a short-term solution, with recent improvement driven mainly by pandemic restrictions rather than serious environmental policies.
In 2021, New Delhi was once again the capital with the worst air in the world, recording an average concentration of 85 µg/m3 of PM2.5 particles – particles smaller than 2.5 microns – despite restrictions on movement throughout the year due to Covid-19.
The figure represents a slight increase from 2020, when India’s total confinement resulted in New Delhi’s average air quality dropping to 84.1 µg/m3 of PM2.5, the lowest in the last four years.
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, this figure was much higher, amounting to PM2.5 levels of 113.5 µg/m3 in 2018 and 98.6 µg/m3 in 2019.
However, the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) approved in 2019 to tackle this problem nationwide had little to do with this improvement, according to Greenpeace India’s Campaign Manager Avinash Chanchal, who attributed the drop in pollution to “periodic lockdowns and localized restrictions”.
Chanchal told EFE this plan, a pioneer in the Asian country, only achieved “slow progress” in environmental matters, and the government needed to “ensure the implementation of all the planned activities under the NCAP.”
The report itself noted in this regard that “little information about the activities related to the NCAP, making it difficult to dispel the public’s dissatisfaction with the slow progress under the program.”
It further warned that between 20 and 35 percent of India’s pollution comes from vehicular pollution.
Moreover, air pollution is a serious problem beyond the borders of the capital, with 48 percent of Indian cities reporting a concentration of PM2.5 above 50 µg/m3, ten times above the levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
As for the list of countries, neighboring Bangladesh continued to top the list of those with the worst air quality in 2021, recording an average PM2.5 level of 76.9 µg/m3.
It marked a slight progress from last year, when the average was 77.1 µg/m3, and significantly better than the pre-pandemic levels of 97.1 µg/m3 in 2018 and 83.3 µg/m3 in 2019.
Chairman of the Department of Environmental Science at Dhaka’s Stamford University, Ahmad Kamruzzaman, told EFE that besides the movement restrictions due to the health crisis, the ban on “two-stroke engines” and crackdown on illegal brick kilns may have also contributed to this improvement.
However, he pointed out two more complicated obstacles contributing to air pollution the country – meteorology and a gap in urban planning.
“Pollutants created by sources cannot be dispersed because air pressure and humidity are high in our country and the speed of airflow is less. And as a result of unplanned construction, there is a barrier to airflow, so the air cannot take the pollutants away,” he said.
In this regard, the general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, or Bangladesh Environment Movement, Sharif Jamil criticized the political class for ignoring “the consequences of environmental pollution” in such a densely populated country, which could lead to “a humanitarian catastrophe.”