10 Things You Didn’t Know About India’s Worsening Air Quality

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By Shloka Nath:

1. Worsening Air Quality Is A Pan-India Problem

76% of Indians live in places that do not meet national air quality standards. This means that air pollution in India is not a problem restricted to winters in Delhi or to India’s cities; in fact, no Indian state achieves pollution levels at or below the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) limits.

2. Air Pollution Is A Leading Risk Factor For Death

One in eight deaths in India was attributable to air pollution in 2017. Additionally, at 1.24 million, the deaths caused by air pollution are more than those caused by diarrhoea, tuberculosis, HIV, or malaria. The health cost of this is as high as USD 80 billion.

3. The Elderly Are Disproportionately Affected

About half of these 1.24 million deaths are of people over the age of 70, making the elderly among the most vulnerable to air pollution, in addition to women, children, and low-income communities.

4. The Average Life Expectancy Of A Child Is Reduced

The average life expectancy of a child is reduced by at least 2.6 years. Additionally, 10% of all under-five deaths in 2016 were caused by worsening air quality.

Youngsters wear pollution masks in the national capital, during the post-Diwali haze. (Photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

5. Low-Income Populations Are Vulnerable

Lower-income populations are overexposed to causes of air pollution because they do not possess the financial strength to defend themselves against it. This is because of four reasons:

  • They typically cannot afford to live in relatively safe or upwind residential areas, away from industry and power plants.
  • They cannot afford new technology such as air purifiers and appropriate face masks.
  • They often have to take up jobs in mining, traffic management, or work as industrial labourers which overexposes them to higher amounts of particulate matter.
  • They are reliant on polluting fuels such as wood, dung, or kerosene for cooking and heating.

New research indicates that air pollution impacts birth weight, child growth, obesity, and bladder cancer. There is growing evidence of the adverse impacts of pollution on cognitive abilities in children.

7. Rural India Is Being Sidelined

Of the 600-plus air quality monitoring stations the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) set up across the country, there are none in rural areas. The lack of adequate monitoring and measurement systems leaves the air quality challenges in rural India uncovered.

8. Efforts Aren’t Reaching The People Who Need Them The Most

49 of the 54 (90%) organised citizen mobilisations on air pollution in 2019 occurred in urban areas. 1 However, 75% of the deaths linked to air pollution (in 2015) occurred in rural areas.

9. Information About It Is Inaccessible

84% of the total media coverage on air pollution is in English. 2

10. India Has More Polluted Cities Than Any Other Country

22 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India, and almost 99% of Indians breathe air that is above the WHO’s defined safety limits.

To know more, you can explore this emissions inventory, which provides more information on the sources of air pollution in India. You can also read more about India’s National Clean Air Programme and whether if it’s on track.

If you wish to do more, check the air quality in your area in real time on the Central Pollution Control Board’s National Air Quality Index or see the air quality across India at a glance here or here.


  1. Dalberg analysis on Times of India coverage on air pollution in 2019. Dalberg conducted this analysis as a part of an internal research in partnership with the India Climate Collaborative and ASAR social impact.
  2. Meltwater Analysis, via Dalberg. Dalberg found this as a part of an internal research conducted in partnership with the India Climate Collaborative and ASAR social impact.

Note: this article was originally published here

About the author: Shloka Nath is the Executive Director of the India Climate Collaborative. She also leads the Sustainability portfolio at the Tata Trusts, focused on the organisation’s climate, energy and environment work. Prior to this, Shloka co-founded and was Managing Partner, Sankhya Women Impact Funds. Shloka is an angel investor in social enterprises and has mentored organisations across sectors. She was Managing Editor for the Harvard Kennedy School Review and has spent over a decade in journalism with the BBC in London, New Delhi Television, and Forbes. Shloka has a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a BSc in Government from The London School of Economics and Political Science.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Anindito Mukherjee for Reuters.
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