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Striving for Clean Air: Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia

Striving for Clean Air: Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia

Nine out of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution are in South Asia. Concentrations of fine particulate matter (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).  It causes an estimated 2 million premature deaths in the region each year and incurs significant economic costs. Controlling air pollution is difficult without a better understanding of the activities that emit particulate matter. Air pollution travels long distances in South Asia and gets trapped in large “airsheds” that are shaped by climatology and geography. This report identifies six major airsheds in the region, analyzes four scenarios to reduce air pollution with varying degrees of policy implementation and cooperation among countries, and offers a roadmap for airshed-wide air quality management.

Chapter Summaries


Chapter 1 | Introduction

South Asia suffers from extreme air pollution, which leads to severe health impacts and economic costs. South Asian countries have made strides in strengthening air quality management (AQM) programs, but more work is needed. To effectively reduce air pollution, cooperation across jurisdictions is needed.


Chapter 2 | Air Quality in South Asia – A Regional Picture of the Sources of Air Pollution

The sources of emissions in South Asia are diverse. In addition to emission sources that are common throughout the world, there are activities specific to South Asia that contribute large amounts of PM2.5 in ambient air. At any given location, PM2.5 in ambient air originates from a wide range of upwind sources extending over several hundred kilometers. Effective AQM in South Asia therefore needs to balance measures across sectors and coordinate interventions with other upwind regions. The need for airshed-wide coordination emerges particularly for the urban areas of South Asia, in which a high share of PM2.5 pollution in ambient air is imported from outside the area.


Chapter 3 | Cost-effective Measures to Deal with Ambient Air Pollution in South Asia

This report considers four pollution control scenarios and the most cost-effective scenario, ‘Toward  the next lower WHO Interim Target scenario’, considers trans-boundary pollution. In this scenario, if each state or province were to cut exposure below the next lower WHO Interim Target, mean exposure in South Asia would decline to 30 μg/m³, a reduction of 40 percent of 2018 levels. Additional annual costs amount to US$5.7 billion per year, or 0.11 percent of GDP annually through 2030. About half of the cost would be due to measures in the household sector.


Chapter 4 | Benefits of Reduced Air Pollution

The health impacts of air pollution range from respiratory infections to chronic diseases, and from serious discomfort to morbidity and premature mortality. A lower-bound estimate of the benefit to cost ratio is the highest for the most cost-effective scenario, ‘Toward  the next lower WHO Interim Target scenario’, and has the lowest per capita cost of averting premature deaths. The scenario would save more than 750,000 lives annually at a cost per life saved of US$ 7,600. These benefits vary by location according to the geographical distribution of exposure to air pollution.


Chapter 5 | A Roadmap toward Airshed-wide Air Quality Management

Governments in South Asia are increasingly putting policies in place to reduce air pollution. However, current policies focus on air quality within cities. The analysis in this report shows that cooperation between different jurisdictions within an airshed is crucial, and a schematic roadmap with three phases is proposed. The phases in the roadmap may overlap when the rate of progress differs, depending on local circumstances. The first phase would improve monitoring and institutions, the second phase would introduce additional and joint targets for cost-effective abatement, and the third phase would mainstream air quality in the economy.

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