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China’s air pollution improves, deaths reduced in 74 cities: Report

China issued the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan in 2013 and pumped in billions of yuan to reduce emissions from vehicle and fuels, coal-fired electric generating units and the industrial sector.

world Updated: Jul 22, 2018 23:50 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
China,China Air Pollution,China Pollution
Researchers found there were 47,000 fewer deaths and 710,000 fewer years of life lost attributable to air pollution in the 74 cities in 2017 in comparison to 2013.(Reuters File Photo)

China’s efforts to control air pollution have “measurably” reduced smog in 74 cities, a new report says, however noting higher than accepted PM 2.5 levels and a substantial growth in ozone pollution.

The report, compiled by researchers from the Peking University’s School of Public Health, studied data between 2013 and 2017 in 74 cities across China and found that annual average concentrations of PM2.5, (fine particulate matter) PM 10 and sulphur dioxide had dropped by 33.3%, 27.8%, and 54.1%, respectively.

Using the “latest and widely recognised” integrated exposure-response functions, the researchers found there were 47,000 fewer deaths and 710,000 fewer years of life lost attributable to air pollution in the 74 cities in 2017 in comparison to 2013.

China issued the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan in 2013 and pumped in billions of yuan to reduce emissions from vehicle and fuels, coal-fired electric generating units and the industrial sector.

Five years later, progress has been made but a lot more needs to be done.

“Having documented this progress, the investigators are also careful to note the challenges in undertaking such an analysis—and in making continuing air quality progress in China,” says the July edition of The Lancet Planetary Health, where the report was published.

The researchers, for one, noted that even with the improvements in air quality, “levels still substantially exceed China’s air quality standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and about 365,000 premature deaths could still be attributed to PM2.5 air pollution, even accounting for the 47,240 fewer deaths reported”.

“Although five years is a reasonable initial time to test air quality trends, the multiple atmospheric and meteorological variables argue for continued surveillance to ensure that progress is real and lasting,” the journal said about the research.

The research also showed there has been “substantial growth in exposures to, and health effects from, ozone air pollution”.

“Clearly, the issues surrounding air pollution in China pose public health challenges. The actions of the Chinese Government—and this new analysis by J Huang and colleagues documenting the substantial progress—augur very well for continued learning and improvement in tackling this important issue,” the science journal noted.

“Nowhere is this public health impact (of air pollution) more keenly felt than in two rapidly developing countries, China and India, which together account for more than half of the public health burden.”

Delhi faced several days of critically high pollution level this summer, with PM10 levels in June eight times higher than the daily safe standards.

AK Anwar, a researcher at the London-based International Institute of Environment and Development said compared to the residents of Beijing, Delhiites breathe three times as much fine particles that cause cancer.

“The government of China was able to bring down the pollution levels because they created an action plan ushering in strict traffic curbs, and also brought about regulations on the city’s construction activities. This plan is put into action starting November every year, when the particulate levels spike,” Anwar said.

“The trick that has worked for them is to ‘pre-plan’ their action, instead of acting after the situation starts getting bad. Even then, pollution levels will not come down overnight.”

Prashant Ranade, a professor of environmental engineering at IIT-Delhi, said the exercises implemented in Beijing are not difficult to replicate in Delhi. “Beijing is much larger but its structure is quite similar to Delhi’s. If they can do it, so can we,” he said.

However, he felt the Chinese government, unlike India’s, does not have to deal with the problems of multiple agencies and political differences while applying strict norms. “ If we keep addressing people as vote banks, who might turn against us for policies that restrict parking space and push people to use public transport, then we headed towards doomsday,” he said.

Earlier in July, China released a new three-year action plan on air pollution control, drawing up a timetable for improving air quality.

(With inputs from Soumya Pillai in New Delhi)

First Published: Jul 22, 2018 22:46 IST