A study has found that air pollution levels are similar in rural and urban areas in the Indo-Gangetic plain (IGP), which has the highest levels of pollution in India.
A team of four researchers from Colorado State University (CSU) in the United States of America and Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) — led by professor AR Ravishankara, department of chemistry, CSU — compared the amount of particulate matter (PM2.5, referring to suspended particles which are 2.5 microns or smaller) in six regions in the country (IGP, north India, eastern India, western India, central India and southern India) for over four months. PM 2.5 levels were studied at ground level from satellite measurements of aerosols. Partly funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the study reiterated that IGP — covering Punjab to West Bengal — has the highest levels of air pollution. The study was published on November 2 in the international multi-disciplinary journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Unlike in industrialised countries, there wasn’t much difference in air pollution levels in rural and urban areas in India. “Globally, air pollution research is focussed in urban areas, particularly in industrialised countries where a large section of the population resides in cities. In India, however, the case is different,” said Chandra Venkataraman, professor, department of chemistry at IIT-B, who was part of the research team.
“The lack of a massive difference in population density between urban and non-urban regions may be a feature of the developing world,” said Ravishankara. With similar health risks being posed to rural and urban populations alike, the study estimates approximately 10.5 lakh people die prematurely of causes that may be attributed to PM 2.5. The causes include ischemic heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and type 2 diabetes. “Of this, 69% deaths occur in rural areas and the rest are in urban areas. This is likely because more people reside in rural areas,” said Venkataraman. “We have found that in non-urban areas, residential energy use is a significant emissions source, primarily due to household cooking with solid fuels. Therefore, we need string regional monitoring systems and include emission controls in rural areas,” he added.
LS Kurinji, who is a research analyst at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water; and was not involved in the study, said, “The report raises concerns about the lack of rural air quality monitoring. The concern is pertinent as several studies have documented that air quality in rural areas is equally bad due to the use of solid fuels in households.”