Clean air should be a basic human right and yet air pollution is the single greatest environmental risk to human health. In 2017, 3.4 million people died prematurely as a result of outdoor air pollution which makes 6% of global deaths. The share for India was 8.26%. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranked New Delhi as the world’s most polluted city in 2014.
The Covid-19 pandemic made urban air pollution a highly visible problem. As cities declared lockdowns, people in many highly-polluted cities saw the blue skies and many of them realised for the first time what the world might look like if the air was clean. Public perception surveys since the pandemic reveal that fresh air has caused many to reconsider a return to “normal”. There’s a clear demand for greener spaces in cities, increased public transportation, work from home and penalising the polluters. The sharp drop in air pollution during the pandemic has also created a greater awareness of the health impacts and vulnerability to threats like Covid-19 due to airborne pollutants.
While India develops its economic recovery plans, it is essential to include measures to reduce air pollution. The lockdown has shown us how quickly the air could be cleaned up if major pollution sources are properly controlled.