About 38 of the pollution in New Delhi this year has been caused by stubble burning.
New Delhi: South Asia has become the global hotspot for air pollution, with four of the world's most polluted countries and nine of the 10 most polluted cities in the region. From forcing the closure of schools to impacting sporting events, the toxic air in South Asia has disrupted the lives of millions of people.
Why South Asia Has Become Hotspot Of Air Pollution?
Countries in South Asia have seen an increase in demand for energy and fossil fuels over the past two decades due to marked increase in industrialisation, economic development, and population growth.
Apart from heavy reliance on fossil fuels for energy needs, there are also certain major contributors that are unique to South Asia, including solid fuel combustion for cooking and heating, human cremation, and burning of agricultural waste.
About 38% of the pollution in New Delhi this year has been caused by stubble burning - a practice where stubble left after harvesting rice is burnt to clear fields - in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana, according to Reuters.
A significant increase in the number of vehicles on roads has also exacerbated the pollution problem. In India and Pakistan, for example, the number of vehicles has increased four-fold since the early 2000s.
New Delhi, ranked the world's most polluted capital for four years in a row by Swiss Group IQAir, has 472 vehicles per thousand population, according to government data, with almost eight million vehicles plying on its roads as of 2022.
Why Pollution-control Measures Are Not Working?
Although South Asian countries have implemented several measures to curb pollution, like putting together air quality management plans, installing more pollution monitors, and pushing for a switch to cleaner fuels, these efforts have not seen much positive outcome on the ground.
This is due to the lack of coordination on pollution control efforts between the countries, experts say.
Dust particles can travel hundreds of kilometres, studies say, transcending national boundaries and impacting countries other than those in which they originate.
About 30% of the pollution in Bangladesh's largest cities, for example, originates in India and is transported to the country by the wind moving from northwest to southeast, according to Reuters.
Is There A Solution?
Countries across South Asia will have to collaborate to enhance monitoring and make policy decisions coordinate efforts if the region's pollution problem is to be solved. At the same time, these region-wide efforts will have to be balanced by moulding solutions to suit local conditions where needed.
In addition, the focus will also have to be broadened to include sectors such as agriculture and waste management.
To curb stubble burning, governments can offer subsidies on better harvesting machines. Countries like India have already started offering such incentives but demand for such machines has been limited due to their high purchase cost and high waiting time for those who want to rent them.