India was the eighth most polluted nation globally in 2022, with 39 of the world’s most polluted 50 cities in the country, an annual global survey by IQAir, a Swiss air purifier maker shows.

India and Pakistan generally experience the “worst air quality” in central and south Asia, which was home to eight of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution.

India’s annual average PM2.5 level in 2022 was 53.3 μg/m3, only slightly lower than the 2021 average of 58.1. In 2021, 12 of the 15 most polluted cities in the Central and South Asia were in India. That number stayed the same in 2022, the Swiss agency reveals.

PM2.5 at or below 12 μg/m3 is generally considered healthy. If it goes beyond 35 μg/m3, the air is considered unhealthy, which means it can cause several healthy breathing issues.

"Two of the top 15 most polluted cities in the region, Darbhanga and Asopur, deployed government stations in 2022. Bhiwadi, the most polluted city in the country, saw annual PM2.5 levels of 92.7 μg/m3, and roughly 60% of cities in India included in this report experienced annual PM2.5 levels of at least seven times higher than the WHO guideline," the report shows.

In terms of challenges, air pollution remains the second biggest risk factor for diseases based on the 2019 Global Burden of Disease report, and the economic cost of air pollution is estimated to exceed $150 billion dollars annually. "The transportation sector’s contribution to PM2.5 varies from 20-35% across Indian cities," the report reveals.

Notably, the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), launched by the government in 2019, was updated in 2022, with a new target of a 40% reduction in PM concentration by 2026. The plan seeks to reduce PM concentrations by 20-30% by 2024, in all identified non-attainment cities, increase air quality monitoring, and conduct source apportionment studies.

The report asserts that stubble (crop) burning is an "important challenge" in the region but says it's an "episodic phenomenon confined to few areas", including Delhi and North India.

According to the report, in 2022, India relaxed environmental compliance rules for coal mines, which allowed for increased production in response to power outages exacerbated by extreme heat waves. "In November, steam coal/thermal coal imports hit a 10-month low and total coal production increased 11.7% to 75.9 million tonnes."

The IQAir report blames the lack of a national emission inventory for high pollution levels, saying the country still lacks the ability to track the progress of reduction strategies.

The 5th Annual World Air Quality Report reveals alarming details of the world’s most polluted countries, territories, and regions in 2022. For this year’s report, data from more than 30,000 air quality monitoring stations across 7,323 locations in 131 countries, territories, and regions were analysed by IQAir’s air quality scientists.

It finds that only six countries met the WHO PM2.5 guideline (annual average of 5 µg/m3 or less): Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland and New Zealand.

The data reveals the top five most polluted countries in 2022 were Chad (89.7 µg/m3) more than 17 times higher than the WHO PM2.5 annual guideline; Iraq (80.1 µg/m3); Pakistan (70.9 µg/m3); Bahrain (66.6 µg/m3); and Bangladesh (65.8 µg/m3). Additionally, a total of 118 (90%) out of 131 countries and regions exceeded the WHO annual PM2.5 guideline value of 5 µg/m3.

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