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World's Smoggiest City Is New Delhi, Not Beijing

Beijing’s airpocalypse may get more attention, but New Delhi wins the title of world’s smoggiest city. According to a new report from the World Health Organization, India’s capital has an annual average of 153 micrograms per cubic meter of hazardous particulates (known as PM2.5), nearly triple Beijing’s level. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI) calculator, New Delhi’s average air quality is “unhealthy,” posing significant health risks to children and the elderly.

Of course, no one likes to hear this kind of news, and Indian officials have been quick to repudiate the WHO’s findings. Reuters reports:

“Delhi is not the dirtiest … certainly it is not that dangerous as projected,” said A.B. Akolkar, a member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board of India. […]

“The value which has been given in this (WHO) report is overestimating (pollution levels) for Delhi … the reality is that the yearly average is around 110 (microgram),” said [Gufran Beig, chief project scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology].

After the WHO study was released, Beig said he analyzed air pollution levels in Beijing using data available on the U.S. Embassy’s website. He found the Chinese city’s average to be around 100, nearly double the WHO’s estimates.

But even if we use those lower estimates, New Delhi’s air quality still runs afoul of the AQI, hovering in the “unhealthy” range. And this new WHO report isn’t just damning for India’s capital, it’s an indictment of the entire country’s approach to air pollution: 13 of the 20 smoggiest cities in the world are Indian.

New Delhi and Beijing can squabble over the unappealing title of world’s smoggiest city, but both India and China have to start addressing the costs of the rapid growth that has won them accolades from BRIC boosters around the world. If their leaders were smart, they’d start working on the transition to an information economy, and avoid some of the heavy energy demands of an industrial economy. There’s no reason why the developing world needs to follow the path of development that the West took.

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  • El Gringo

    The vast majority of Indians still live in rural areas. When something like half of these rural folks don’t even have toilets, getting them to care about air pollution in a far-away city is going to be difficult.

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