In fight for clean air, Beijing outguns Delhi

Delhi may draw favourable comparisons with Beijing with every smog attack, but the Chinese capital has beaten Delhi in addressing air pollution, a Greenpeace analysis released on Saturday said.

While Delhi’s total number of “bad air” days in 2014 have far outnumbered Beijing’s, the latter has put in place a time-bound action plan to meet the safe air quality standard by 2030 and a stringent short-term response plan with health advisory and a four-level alarm system which includes closing of schools, factories and cutting down the number of cars on the roads depending on pollution levels. Delhi has no such plan. 

Beijing is also working towards bringing down its average PM 2.5 (fine, respirable pollution particles) levels to 60 micrograms per cubic metre from the current level of 89 microgram per cubic metre by 2017.

Unlike Delhi, Beijing’s continuous monitoring stations have live, downloadable data for all days. The monitoring stations run by Delhi Pollution control Committee (DPCC) had no data for 56 days in 2014.

Greenpeace campaigners also found that the health risks faced by people in Delhi are far more than those living in Beijing. They ran a health impact modelling exercise based on a methodology developed by the Global Burden of Disease study 2010 which found that Delhites may have a 20-25 per cent increased risk of lung cancer, 10 per cent to 15 per cent increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases and a 5 per cent increased risk of ischaemic heart disease compared to those living in Beijing.

The Central Pollution Control Board reported Delhi’s average PM2.5 level in 2013 to be 153 microgram per cubic metres, based on hourly measurements at 6 different stations.

This is 15 times the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline and 3.8 times the national safe standard. “Delhi’s average is also 80 per cent higher than the average in Beijing, where pollution regularly makes national and international headlines and has led to exceptionally strong action to limit use of cars, industrial emissions and emissions from coal in particular,” a statement released by Greenpeace India on Saturday said.

“Beijing, unlike Delhi, has a five-year action plan in place to protect its citizens from harmful air. It is appalling to see the union minister for environment, Prakash Javadekar recently dismiss any need for precautionary measures such as masks or school closures on heavy pollution days. The government needs to show that it cares for its citizens - children, the sick and elderly are at most risk from Delhi’s toxic air.

Greenpeace campaigners also demanded that “there should be stringent targets for industrial emissions. We need an action plan similar to that of Beijing, it should include an emergency alert system that issues health advisories to public on heavy pollution days along with instructions for industries to cut down emissions. We have no emission standards for coal-fired power plants in India, a sector responsible for emitting 7500 tons of PM2.5 into the city.” 

They quoted a study published last year called “Human health risks in national capital territory of Delhi due to air pollution” by scientists from IIT, Roorkee, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota and University of Colorado at Denver which found a massive rise in mortality and morbidity associated with high air pollution levels in Delhi since 2000.

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