Record Air Pollution Levels Hit India, South Korea

Non-profit environmental organization Greenpeace and Swiss-based air purifier company IQAir have together released the 2018 World Air Quality Report that measures air pollution levels using as an indicator contaminants rated as PM 2.5 (i.e. tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two-and-one half microns or less in width, and capable of causing respiratory damage). Gurugram, India’s emerging tech hub where many international firms have headquarters, was ranked as the most polluted city among the more than 3,000 cities surveyed globally, with an average PM 2.5 concentration of 135.8 micrograms per cubic metre. New Delhi has the worst air pollution among all capitals, with an overall ranking of 11. All of the top 10 polluted cities are in Asia – seven are in India, two are in Pakistan, and one is in China.

Air pollution in India has created serious impacts on peoples’ health and on the country’s economy. Another study conducted by researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and its partner institutes found crop-residue burning to be the primary factor that contributes to air pollution in northern India, and it leads to an estimated US$30 billion in losses annually to the three northern states, due to increased health-care costs for respiratory infections and lowered economic productivity.

Meanwhile in South Korea, the hourly average concentration of PM 2.5 in Seoul hit 184 micrograms per cubic metre (many times the level considered safe) on Tuesday, a record high since the government started to track this data in 2015. Emergency measures were imposed in 12 cities and provinces, including in the country’s southernmost Jeju Island for the very first time, where diesel-fuelled vehicles and coal power plant operations are banned. According to South Korea’s National Institute of Environmental Research, the PM 2.5 level will likely remain high on Wednesday and then improve on Thursday, before worsening over the weekend. Rising density of fine dust has been a recurring problem for South Korea in recent years, caused by high levels of coal consumption in neighbouring countries as well as domestically-produced emissions. On Wednesday, South Korean president Moon Jae-in proposed working jointly with China to use artificial rain as well as an alert-issuing system to tackle the problem.