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World Bank’s Report on Air Pollution in South Asia 2022: Where India Stands?

How Alarming is the World Bank’s Report on Air Pollution in South Asia 2022?


World Bank’s Report on Air Pollution in South Asia 2022?: World Bank recently released a comprehensive Report on Air Pollution in South Asia 2022. The title and link of the report is Striving for Clean Air: Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia.

Key Findings:

  • World Bank’s Report on Air Pollution in South Asia 2022 says Persistently hazardous levels of air pollution have caused a major public health crisis in South Asia that demands urgent action.
  • World Bank’s Report on Air Pollution in South Asia 2022 says that concentrations of fine particulate matter such as soot and small dust (PM 2.5) in some of the region’s most densely populated and poor areas are up to 20 times higher than what WHO considers healthy (5 µg/mᶾ).
  • World Bank’s Report on Air Pollution in South Asia 2022 says South Asia is home to 9 of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution, which causes an estimated 2 million premature deaths across the region each year and incurs significant economic costs.
  • Exposure to such extreme air pollution has impacts ranging from stunting and reduced cognitive development in children, to respiratory infections and chronic and debilitating diseases.
  • This drives up healthcare costs, lowers a country’s productive capacity, and leads to lost days worked.


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Which are the major sources of Air Pollution in South Asia?


  • Large industries, powerplants and vehicles are dominant sources of air pollution around the world, but in South Asia, other sources make substantial additional contributions.
  • These include combustion of solid fuels for cooking and heating, emissions from small industries such as brick kilns, burning of municipal and agricultural waste, and cremation.
  • Air pollution travels long distances— crossing municipal, state, and national boundaries—and gets trapped in large “airsheds” that are shaped by climatology and geography.


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Which are Six major airsheds in South Asia?


  • The World Bank’s report identifies six major airsheds in South Asia where spatial interdependence in air quality is high.
  • Particulate matter in each airshed comes from various sources and locations, for example less than half of the air pollution in South Asia’s major cities is produced within cities.  
  • The six major airsheds in South Asia where air quality in one affected the other were:
    • (1) West/Central IGP that included Punjab (Pakistan), Punjab (India), Haryana, part of Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh;
    • (2) Central/Eastern IGP: Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bangladesh;
    • (3) Middle India: Odisha/Chhattisgarh;
    • (4) Middle India: Eastern Gujarat/Western Maharashtra;
    • (5) Northern/Central Indus River Plain: Pakistan, part of Afghanistan; and
    • (6) Southern Indus Plain and further west: South Pakistan, Western Afghanistan extending into Eastern Iran.

World Bank's Report on Air Pollution in South Asia 2022_3.1

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Where India Stands on Air Pollution in South Asia?


  • Currently over 60% of South Asians are exposed to an average 35 µg/m3 of PM2.5 annually. In some parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) it spiked to as much as 100 µg/m3 – nearly 20 times the upper limit of 5 µg/m3 recommended by the World Health Organisation, says the World Bank report.
  • India has six large airsheds, some of them shared with Pakistan, between which air pollutants move.

Most Affected by Cross Border Air Pollution!

  • When the wind direction was predominantly northwest to the southeast, 30% of the air pollution in Indian Punjab came from the Punjab Province in Pakistan and, on average, 30% of the air pollution in the largest cities of Bangladesh (Dhaka, Chittagong, and Khulna) originated in India. In some years, substantial pollution flowed in the other direction across borders.
  • This means is that even if Delhi National Capital Territory were to fully implement all air pollution control measures by 2030 while other parts of South Asia continued to follow current policies, it wouldn’t keep pollution exposure below 35 µg/m3.
  • However if other parts of South Asia also adopted all feasible measures it would bring pollution below that number.
  • This is also the case with many other cities in South Asia, especially those in the IGP.

How India is tackling Air Pollution?

  • India in 2019 launched a programme called the National Clean Air Campaign (NCAP) that aims to reduce air pollution in 131 of India’s most polluted cities.
  • The target was initially to cut pollution by 20%-30% by 2024 over 2017 levels but has now been revised to cutting it by 40% by 2025-26.

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How a united South Asia would curb air pollution?


  • World Bank’s report shows that there are economically feasible, cost-effective solutions to achieve clean air in the region, but this requires countries to coordinate policies and investments.
  • Curbing air pollution requires not only tackling its specific sources, but also close coordination across local and national jurisdictional boundaries.
  • Regional cooperation can help implement cost-effective joint strategies that leverage the interdependent nature of air quality.
  • Several South Asian countries have adopted policies to help improve air quality, but their focus on mitigating air pollution generated within cities is yielding insufficient results.
  • The World Bank’s report shows that current policy measures will only be partially successful in reducing PM 2.5 concentrations across South Asia even if fully implemented.
  • To achieve greater progress, the focus of policy makers should expand into other sectors, particularly small manufacturing, agriculture, residential cooking, and waste management.

Four scenarios to reduce air pollution

  • The World Bank’s report analyzes four scenarios to reduce air pollution with varying degrees of policy implementation and cooperation among countries. The most cost-effective scenario, which calls for full coordination between airsheds, would cut the average exposure of PM 2.5 in South Asia to 30 µg/m³ at a cost of $278 million per µg/m of reduced exposure, and save more than 750,000 lives annually.
  • But optimal solutions depend on several factors such as better monitoring systems, more scientific capacity, greater coordination between governments, and behavioral change among farmers, small firms, and households. To this end, the report offers a three-phased roadmap.


Impact of Pollution on India’s GDP- Lancet Commission Report


Way Forward


  • The effects of air pollution were all pervasive and spared no country in South Asia.
  • So, scientists of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries must establish a dialogue on air pollution to tackle it with an ‘airshed approach’.
  • This is how the problem has been tackled in other regions, like ASEAN, Nordic regions, and across China.
  • States need to stop blaming and go for a collaborative approach if they wish to reduce air pollution for their citizens.
  • As regional cooperation can help implement cost-effective joint strategies that leverage the interdependent nature of air quality.

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