Breathing the air in India is the same as smoking 50 cigarettes a day
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Breathing the air in India is the same as smoking 50 cigarettes a day

IN 2014, the Indian capital of New Delhi was ranked the most polluted city in the world by World Health Organisation (WHO). Two years later, the city recorded its highest pollution level in six years.

Although WHO’s latest report indicates that New Delhi is no longer the most polluted city in the world, India has other things to worry about. But the country now has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM 2.5 concentrations.

PM2.5 refers to atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that have a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometers, which is about 3 percent the diameter of a human hair.

SEE ALSO: India home to 14 of world’s 20 most polluted cities

Particles in this category are so small that they can only be detected with an electron microscope.

Because these particles are so small and light, they tend to stay longer in the air than heavier particles. This increases the chances of humans and animals inhaling them. They are also able to bypass the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs and also the circulatory system.

Exposure to these particles can trigger or worsen chronic diseases such as asthma, heart attack, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems, as well as premature death from heart and lung diseases. WHO’s global air pollution database studied over 4,000 cities in 100 countries.

The release found that the worst hit city in terms of bad air quality is Kanpur, a large industrial city on the banks of the Ganges River. Kanpur’s PM 2.5 annual average was 173 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) – three times the national safe level at 60ug/m3.


A man wears a face mask in New Delhi, India, December 6, 2017. Source: Reuters/Saumya Khandelwal

Here are the Indian cities in the top 15 by ranking:

  1. Kanpur
  2. Faridabad
  3. Varanasi
  4. Gaya
  5. Patna
  6. Delhi
  7. Lucknow
  8. Agra
  9. Muzaffarpur
  10. Srinagar
  11. Gurgaon
  12. Jaipur
  13. Patiala
  14. Jodhpur

The 15th city is Kuwait City. In November 2017, New Delhi residents posted pictures and videos on social media of bad visibility due to pollution. In some places, it had decreased to just a few feet.

India’s poor air quality has not only affected traffic conditions and flights, but also the country’s pride and joy, the Taj Mahal.

SEE ALSO: UN: China, India lead in premature deaths from pollution

The iconic Unesco World Heritage Site’s white marble walls are reportedly turning brown and green due to harmful pollutants in the air.

There was a time when Beijing was accounted for similarly alarming levels of air pollution. The Chinese city is now ranked 46th. The Indian Medical Association previously likened breathing the air in India to smoking 50 cigarettes a day, but it’s not too late to turn that around.

Currently, anti-pollution measures such as taxing trucks passing through New Delhi, limiting car use, and banning firecrackers are in place.

A version of this article was originally published on our sister website Travel Wire Asia.