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India has the most Polluted Cities, yet the World doesn’t Pay Attention

While Beijing’s residents can now breathe a little easier after days of dangerous smog, Delhi’s residents are still enmeshed in a haze that offers no relief. Last weekend, as a gray smog converged onto Beijing, news headlines and social media users all focused on Beijing’s highest air pollution level in over a year. Yet, while the U.S. Embassy’s reading of Beijing’s air pollution on Monday found a measure of more than 600, it measured an off the charts 999 in New Delhi on its air quality index just two days prior. Further, while Beijing’s smog has since blown away, Delhi’s air quality measure on Friday is still in the “very unhealthy” range at 224.

Indian cities don’t get as much attention as Chinese cities do with respect to air pollution, said Anmol Vanamali, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute. Yet, it is clear that Indian cities are just as, if not more, polluted. According to the World Health Organization’s data from 2014, Delhi was ranked as having the highest PM 2.5 levels in the world. Smaller than 2.5 microns in width, PM 2.5 particles are particularly dangerous to human health because they are small enough that they can lodge into a person’s lungs. This specific type of pollution has been linked to premature death in people with heart or lung disease and to heart attacks.

Awareness of this matter in India lags far behind. Yet, with air pollution tied to 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012, awareness becomes more and more important, for all countries” developing and developed. “Not enough people know how bad the air is because there are inadequate monitoring and reporting,” said Anjali Jaiswal, director of the India Initiative at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an email. “Monitoring is the first step India needs to take to address air quality challenges and protect the public. You cannot control what you do not measure.”

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