WHO’s new air quality standards underline the health-pollution link. It’s time policies take a holistic approach

Synopsis: India’s air quality standards were way short of WHO norms even before. The new thresholds will sharpen these differences.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has released the Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs). These guidelines are not legally binding but advise to policymakers to shape their policies by prioritizing the health of the people.

Read here: WHO says air pollution kills 7 million a year, toughens guidelines
Where does the problem lie?

Pollution management: Short-term ad-hoc measures are often deployed to deal with the problem of air pollution in India, such as bans, fines and shutting down of power stations.

Collaboration: The issue of Air pollution is multi-faceted involving pollution, health, environment etc. But rarely any collaboration is seen between the Ministries of Environment and Health.

The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) does talk of inter-sectoral linkages, especially health and environment, and sets time-bound targets, but the success of the program will depend on how it can synergize different plans of various departments. In the absence of such concerted action, the NCAP could end up becoming another data-gathering exercise.

Updated data: India’s ambient air quality standards were last updated in 2009. It is high time that they are revised and WHO guidelines are inculcated into them.

Focused approach:  Quality of air is dependent on a variety of activities and therefore needs to be tackled at source. For example, one cannot expect clean air, when the surroundings are filthy, or the quality of roads are not good.

Conflict with other activities: There is direct conflict in efforts to improve air quality with some other objectives like to keep our industries competitive in the short term. That is the reason why we have seen repeated relaxations, extensions of deadlines, in implementing more stringent emission norms for certain industries.

Unsustainable construction: The construction site is not covered properly. Construction material or debris is kept in the open and transported in open trucks.

Roads: India’s roads don’t conform to basic construction sites. The corners of the roads are not properly paved, leading to the release of lots of very harmful particles. The sidewalks and road dividers are major sources of dust.

All this calls for multi stakeholder-approach to handle this complex problem.

Source: This post is based on the following articles

WHO’s new air quality standards underline the health-pollution link. It’s time policies take a holistic approach” published in Indian Express on 24th September 2021.

“Explained: What new WHO pollution norms mean for India” published in Indian Express on 24th September 2021

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