Air in India, Nepal among south-east Asia’s most polluted: WHO report

Nepal and India have the most polluted air among 11 countries in the south-east Asian region, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, based on the amount of particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less (PM2.5) found in every square metre of air.

The World Health Statistics report released on Thursday said Nepal’s air had an annual average of 99.5 micrograms per square metre in 2016. India, the report said, was the second most polluted country in the region with an annual average of 68 micrograms per square metre.

According to WHO standards, PM2.5 levels should be below 10 micrograms/sqm.

Bangladesh was the region’s third most polluted country, according to the WHO, and recorded an average of 58.6 micrograms/sqm of PM2.5 in the same year. It was followed by Bhutan at 35.4 micrograms/sqm and Myanmar with micrograms/sqm of PM2.5.

The death rate from air pollution was higher in Nepal and North Korea than in India among the 11 countries in the south-east Asian region, according to the report. It said household and ambient air pollution kills 184.3 people per 100,000 in India as compared to 193.8 in Nepal.

The WHO says globally about seven million people die every year as a result of both indoor and ambient air pollution that can lead to heart disease, stroke and lung cancer and that most of the deaths happen in poor Asian and African countries.

The Lancet, a British medical journal, estimated that air pollution was responsible for almost 10% of the total disease burden in India in 2016.

The WHO report also looked at the proportion of the population that primarily rely on clean fuels in the region.

In India, 41% do as compared to only 28% people in Nepal. However, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh fare worse with only 26%, 18%, and 18% people relying on clean fuels.

“Access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking has marginally improved and in 2016 reached 59% globally — an increase of 10 percentage points since 2000. However, coverage levels vary greatly between countries and population growth continues to outpace the transition to clean fuels and technologies in many countries, leaving over 3 billion people still cooking with polluting stove and fuel combinations,” the report said.

“The resulting household air pollution is estimated to have caused 3.8 million deaths from NCDs (including heart disease, stroke and cancer) and acute lower respiratory infections in 2016,” it added.

The report also recorded the incidence of communicable diseases as part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals target of ending epidemics like AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases. India tops the list of countries in Southeast Asia region with the highest malaria and neglected tropical diseases incidence.

In 2016, 18.8 people out of 1,000 at risk of malaria in India got it, according to the report. The lowest incidence was noted in Sri Lanka, which has already eliminated malaria.

India targets to reduce the incidence of malaria to less than 1 case per 1,000 population in all states and malaria elimination in 31 states or Union Territories by 2024. By, 2030 the country aims to eliminate malaria or have zero indigenous cases of the mosquito-borne disease.

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