By Madeleine Vance, guest blogger and student at Kent Place School.
On January 17th, the smog in Beijing was so thick that the sunrise was virtually played on television screens around the city. Around the same time, air pollution levels were so dangerous that Beijing’s government administered public health warnings, closed four major highways, and so alarmed the citizens that they purchased masses of air filters and face masks.
A day like that in New Delhi? Average.
Beijing is generally known for its major air pollution issues, but new studies have shown that New Delhi’s daily pollution figures are far more dangerous than Beijing’s. While the government in Beijing takes major precautions when air pollution levels pass above a safe amount, New Delhi’s government provides few alerts to their people. Despite being a city with one of the most buzzing news media sources and bubbling twitter communities, New Delhi’s population lacks awareness of their dangerous air.
Beijing’s government has increased the amount of pollution warnings and recommended precautions for their citizens with the help of the United States Embassy, but New Delhi’s government remains opaque with their people on the issue. In mid-January (around the time of the LED sunrise), the US Embassy sent out warnings that the amount of harmful fine particulate matter (PM2.5) had surpassed 500 micrograms per cubic meter for the first time in 2014. While monitors displayed this warning for just a few days in Beijing, the rest of the month’s pollution remained around 227 micrograms. In New Delhi, average pollution levels were almost double of Beijing’s at around 473 micrograms. This is 44 percent higher than last year. The World Health Organization recommends that daily exposure should be limited to just 25 micrograms.
Beijing’s urban population has greatly expressed public health concerns, especially for children, causing government officials to declare decreasing pollution as a priority. In New Delhi, pollution is not as important, especially after India’s environmental minister quit in December after being criticized for suppressing industrial projects and blamed for harming the economy. The new minister has approved many construction projects which will all considerably add to pollution levels. It has also been discovered in recent studies that New Delhiites lack awareness and incentive to address the pollution issues, and that the environment has contributed to Indians’ weak lungs. Many wealthier Indians have considered emigrating out of the country to a cleaner environment after hearing stories of children and elderly having died or have to have consistent breathing treatments.
India’s Ministry of Environment took measures to reduce harmful emissions in the 1990’s by introducing public transportation options, emission requirements, and a pollution tax. A subway system was also built recently to attract people away from traveling on congested highways long distances to work. Alternative fuel vehicles were also introduced, but come at a high cost to a country with a larger low-income population.
Prepared by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Columbia’s Policy Center for International Earth Science Information Network, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) has an Air Quality component. Based on the following air quality ranking, India has better air than China.
EPI Air Quality Country Ranking 2014:
|ANTIGUA & BARBUDA||1||GREECE||66||SYRIA||126|
|TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO||8||TONGA||68||POLAND||128|
|ICELAND||15||PARAGUAY||76||BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA||136|
|ESTONIA||41||CROATIA||101||CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC||161|
|RUSSIA||49||NETHERLANDS||109||DEM. REP. CONGO||169|
|DJIBOUTI||51||PAPUA NEW GUINEA||111||MYANMAR||171|
Sources and Resources: The NY Times and The 2014 EPI.