Delhi World's Most Polluted Capital City for Third Year in a Row, Finds Air Quality Study

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India’s air quality saw a significant improvement in 2020, in comparison to 2019, because of lockdown measures taken across the country because of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Delhi continued to be the most polluted capital city in the world for the third year in a row, the report found.

Despite the improvement, 22 Indian cities also featured in the top 30 most polluted cities in the world.

Data available on 2020 World Air Quality Report said, “Every city in India observed air quality improvements compared to 2018 and earlier, while 63 percent saw direct improvements against 2019. However, India continues to feature prominently at the top of the most polluted cities ranking with 22 of the top 30 most polluted cities globally.”

The report is based on PM2.5 data collected by both government non-governmental air quality monitors from 106 countries.

The report warned that while India’s air quality had improved significantly, several cities in India continued to have unhealthy air quality that could lead to health issues.

The report said that crop burning, which is one of the key factors contributing to air pollution, was particularly severe in 2020, with Punjab seeing a 46.5 percent rise in farm first compared to 2019.

According to the report while South Asia is one of the most polluted regions in the world, 32 percent of Indian cities average US AQI measurements of ‘unhealthy’ or worse through the year. The report said that in Bangladesh 80 percent of cities and Pakistan 67 percent of cities saw average air quality that was ‘unhealthy’ or worse during the same time period.

The report said that in comparison with 2019, Covid-19 lockdowns and change in people’s lifestyles improved air quality in 84 percent of countries (weighted by city population) and 65 percent of global cities.

“Cities with higher average PM2.5 levels and denser populations tended to observe the most significant PM2.5 reductions from COVID-19 lockdown measures. Delhi (-60 percent), Seoul (-54 percent) and Wuhan (-44 percent), for example, all observed substantial drops during their respective lockdown periods as compared to the same time frame in 2019,” the report said.

However, as countries started to allow businesses to open up, the effects of the lockdown were “short-lived”, bringing down the overall average rate of improvement. For Delhi it was 15 percent.