In the recent past, the Government of India while listing some of the worst polluted rivers in the country, Manipur’s Nambul River stood at the eleventh position. This fairly gives a clear indication that the State capital region is possibly in a death trap with the air, water, and noise pollution at an exceeding level.
By Salam Rajesh
When it comes to talking about the level of pollution in India it does not come as a complete surprise when the country is rated as the eighth most polluted country amongst all countries in the entire world.
The Swiss firm IQ Air in its ‘World Air Quality Report’ released on Tuesday (March 14) earlier this month, ranked India as the world’s eighth most polluted country for the year 2022. In 2021, India had the privilege to be in the fifth position! To add spice to the matter, the report mentioned that out of the 50 most polluted cities in the world, 39 are in India – a remarkable feat for the country.
Following after the two top most polluted cities in the world, namely Lahore in Pakistan and Hotan in China, the Indian city of Bhiwadi in Rajasthan stood at third place with the national capital city of Delhi at fourth position. The report stated that Delhi’s PM2.5 level is almost 20 times beyond the safe limit!
Running close in heels with Delhi are the Indian cities of Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurugram, Faridabad, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bengaluru amongst the most polluted cities. The southern city of Chennai is stated to be the cleanest with its pollution level at just 5 times the WHO’s safe level.
The World Population Review 2023, however, paints a more negative picture of the country stating that India is the third most polluted country in the world, with an average PM2.5 concentration of 51.90. The review also stated that out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world, 21 of them are located in India.
Of the top 10 countries that lead in the Worst Air Pollution rating as per the IQ Air 2020 charting, the three lead countries are all in Asia. India’s neighbouring country Bangladesh leads with an average PM2.5 concentration of 77.10, with Pakistan a close second contender with 59.00 and India at third position with 51.90 respectively.
The 2019-based data of the State of Global Air 2020 provides another differing dimension of the pollution level for the country. India leads with an average PM2.5 concentration of 83.2 with Nepal following closely at 83.1, Niger at 80.1, Qatar at 76, Nigeria at 70.4, Egypt at 67.9, Mauritania at 66.8, Cameroon at 64.5, Bangladesh at 63.4 and Pakistan at 62.6.
The most polluted city in India and the world is Kanpur, the report stated, where the city’s medical college receives about 600 respiratory illness patients per month. India’s unhealthy pollution levels are from sources such as vehicles, the burning of coal and wood, dust storms, and forest fires. Rural areas are also heavily affected by pollution, as people rely on fuels such as wood and dung for cooking and heating, and the practice of burning of crop stubble particularly in the winter months after harvest.
Delhi, India’s national capital region, is notorious for some of the worst air in India, forcing flight cancellations, causing traffic accidents, closing of schools, and even turning the white marble walls of the Taj Mahal into a yellow and green tinge, the report stated.
The fluctuation in the data is there, no doubt, based on the year assessed and source of the data. The 2018-based data of the State of Global Air 2019 indicates that Bangladesh with a human population of 172,954,319 had an average PM2.5 concentration of 83.3, Pakistan with population of 240,485,658 was at 65.81, and India with population of 1,428,627,663 was at 58.08 respectively.
The cleanest countries in the world, as determined by the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), are Switzerland, France and Denmark based on the level of high air quality, clean water, and strong environmentally friendly policies and initiatives. These indexes are certainly missing in India as of today, more pronounced for Manipur State.
At the layman’s definition, pollution is ‘the introduction or presence of contaminants that can have a damaging effect on the human and the natural environment’. The two most prominent forms of pollution are air and water pollution, as is true of other forms such as sound, light, and soil pollution, and these can have broad and long lasting negative impacts upon the health of humans, plants and animals, and entire ecosystems.
It is generally accepted that air pollution is primarily introduced through the burning of fossil fuels. The largest contributors are fossil-fuel-powered vehicles (cars, trucks, aircraft, ships, rockets) and coal or oil-burning power plants and factories. Any activity that involves the burning of wood or fossil fuels can release particulate matter, such as from household-level sources like tobacco products, stoves and ovens, candles, and fireplaces.
Air pollution can lead to health problems including breathing issues, worsening of asthma, and even congenital disabilities. According to the organization Pure Earth, toxic pollution is among the leading risk factors for non-communicable diseases globally, accounting for 72% of all deaths, 16% of which are caused by toxic pollution.
Further, according to the Pure Earth statistics, toxic pollution is responsible for 22% of all cardiovascular disease, 25% of stroke deaths, 40% of lung cancer deaths, and 53% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The data aligns with reference from the World Health Organization which indicates that ‘air pollution causes seven million premature deaths each year’, as much as the reference indicates that nearly 91 to 99 percent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds the WHO’s recommended guidelines.
In this sordid picture of diseases and deaths, it is quite doubtful where Manipur State’s health profile stands at. In the recent past, the Government of India while listing some of the worst polluted rivers in the country, Manipur’s Nambul River stood at the eleventh position. This fairly gives a clear indication that the State capital region is possibly in a death trap with the air, water, and noise pollution at an exceeding level.
The worst case scenario is the non-visibility of the Manipur State Pollution Control Board, and other related agencies, in profiling authentic data on the pollution level specifically in the urban areas. Particulate matter raised from dust and vehicular emissions in the city area would be considerably high, judging by the manner in which the streets and highways are not efficiently managed or regulated.
The Government of Manipur must come out with a clean-chit document stating clearly where the pollution level of Imphal city is at currently, and what measures are being initiated to check the PM2.5 concentration within the city limits. It could also add in data on the pollution-related deaths in the State annually.
(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])