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Delhi has been named 2023’s the most polluted capital city in the world, as India – and the whole of South Asia – continues to grapple with smog and toxic air.

A report into the most polluted cities around the world by IQAir, a Swiss-based air-quality monitoring group, found nine of the top 10 were in India.

Delhi was ranked as the third most polluted city overall and the most polluted capital, with an annual average concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at 102.1 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m³).

The World Health Organization (WHO) says countries should aim for an average PM2.5 concentration of 5μg/m³.

Image:
Delhi’s air quality gets worse over the winter months. Pic: AP

It says exposure to particle pollution is linked to asthma, cancer, lung disease, strokes and other diseases. It also notes that PM2.5 can more easily coat the lungs and even enter the bloodstream.

Delhi deals with poor air quality throughout the year but winter is usually when it is at its worst. Schools and colleges were closed for several days late last year over toxic air.

In November, New Delhi brought in restrictions on the number of cars on the road to curb air pollution. But smog engulfed cities in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh days later, with businesses and schools forced to close in some areas.

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November 2023: Schools shut by severe smog

‘Like an epidemic out here’

Reporting from Delhi, Sky News’ Neville Lazarus said on Thursday it was “like an epidemic out here” and noted activists had claimed pollution was the fifth largest cause of death in India.

He said a report from the British Medical Journal found that per capita, India had 2.18 million deaths attributable to air pollution per year.

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Delhi in India is the most polluted capital city in the world, a report says. Pic: Reuters

“The numbers are just massive. Almost 30,000 deaths in a year – 80 people in Delhi die [each day] because of air pollution,” he said.

“So it is very concerning, and it has a detrimental effect on on the economy: Almost 4% of GDP is spent on health care directly related with air pollution for families. One illness pushes them into poverty.

“But what is concerning in this report is that we’ve seen air pollution coming from Tier Two cities, the smaller cities, a nondescript city like Begusarai in the northern state.”

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IQAir’s report held that Begusarai, in the Indian state of Bihar, was the most polluted city in the world with an average annual PM2.5 concentration of 118.9 μg/m³.

Lahore in neighbouring Pakistan ranked fifth at an average 99.5μg/m³.

Bangladesh most polluted country

The report also found that Bangladesh is the world’s most polluted country, with an annual PM2.5 concentration of 79.9μg/m³.

Pakistan ranks second at 73.7μg/m³, India is third at 54.4μg/m³ and Tajikistan is placed fourth at 49μg/m³, making the South Asia region the most polluted in the world, according to the report.

IQAir held that only seven countries met the WHO’s annual PM2.5 guideline – Australia, New Zealand, Estonia, Iceland, Grenada, Mauritius and Finland.

The report data was gathered from more than 30,000 air quality monitoring stations positioned in 134 countries, regions and territories.

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