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51% of countries (109 of 212), in which 1.4 billion people live, do not produce publicly-available air quality data, a report said. (REUTERS)
51% of countries (109 of 212), in which 1.4 billion people live, do not produce publicly-available air quality data, a report said. (REUTERS)

India lacks transparency in sharing air quality data, says report

  • Washington DC-based OpenAQ said making existing data more fully open would affect 4.4 billion people, in China, India, Russia, Brazil, the Philippines and Japan
  • Globally, outdoor air pollution causes an estimated 4.2 million annual deaths, more than Ebola, HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined

New Delhi: India is one of the countries that do not share air pollution data in a fully open and transparent manner despite air pollution being called “the greatest environmental risk to health" by the World Health Organization (WHO), stated a report released on Thursday by OpenAQ, Washington DC-based international NGO.

The report highlighted that globally outdoor air pollution leads to an estimated 4.2 million deaths every year, more than Ebola, HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined (2.7 million). And, this information vacuum, the report said, is preventing people from demanding action from their governments to tackle the biggest environmental risk to health, and changing their own behaviour.

Over half of the world’s population has no access to official government data on air quality, despite the fact that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants, according to WHO. The research supported by scientists at NASA, examined 212 countries using the OpenAQ system and revealed a huge global inequality in access to information about air quality.

The 13 most populous countries (4.2 billion) with populations over 50 million in which real-time air quality data are produced in some format, but not in a fully open manner on a national-level by the home government, the report highlighted. “A number of other major powers such as China, India, Russia, the Philippines, Brazil and South Africa do not share the data in a fully open and transparent manner. Making these existing data more fully open would affect 4.4 billion people, in countries such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, the Philippines and Japan," the report said.

The data are used for a wide variety of applications, including everything from air quality forecasts produced by NASA scientists to platforms communicating air quality in India to data-driven media reports by the general public.

“51% of countries (109 of 212), in which 1.4 billion people live, do not produce publicly-available air quality data despite it being called “the greatest environmental risk to health" by the WHO. They are also thought to be some of the worst countries for outdoor air pollution, which leads to 4.2 million deaths every year—with 90% of deaths in low- and middle-income countries," the report said.

“We can’t solve the problem of poor air quality, without first understanding how big of a problem it is," Dr Rebecca Garland, Principal Researcher at the CSIR (The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), a South African national research council, said.

According to the State of Global Air 2019, published by Health Effects Institute (HEI) in association with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Texas, Austin, released in 2019, had said that exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution contributed to over 1.2 million deaths in India in 2017.

“Clean air is a basic human right, yet air pollution causes 1 in every 8 deaths across the planet. It is clear that governments need to urgently prioritise air pollution action, and providing open data is a key first step. The technology to monitor air pollution is readily available, but this report makes it clear that many governments must do more to produce data and make it accessible to their citizens," Jane Burston, Executive Director of the Clean Air Fund, a think tank and philanthropic foundation who supported the research, said.

The report said that few overseas aid programs focus on air quality, and only 0.02% of foundation donations target clean air directly ($1 in every $5,000). “The most vulnerable populations around the world are disproportionately affected by air pollution, from respiratory illnesses to reduced lifespans. We must address these data gaps to ensure that clean, breathable air is a basic right for all," said Antha Williams, head of global environment programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

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