Bad air day in China? It's worse in India
IN THE middle of this month, air pollution in Beijing was so bad that the government issued urgent health warnings and closed four major highways.
But, lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi.
The United States Embassy in Beijing sent out warnings in the middle of this month, when a measure of harmful fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 went above 500 for the first time this year. The range for good air quality is between zero and 50.
But, for the first three weeks of this year, New Delhi's average daily peak reading of fine particulate matter from Punjabi Bagh was 473.
By the time Beijing had its first pollution breach past 500 on the night of Jan 15, New Delhi already had eight such days.
"It's always puzzled me that the focus is always on China and not India," said Ms Angel Hsu, director of the environmental-performance measurement programme at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.
Experts have long known that India's air is among the worst in the world.
A recent analysis by Yale researchers found that seven of 10 countries with the worst air-pollution exposures are in South Asia.
A recent study showed that Indians have the world's weakest lungs, with far less capacity than Chinese lungs. Researchers are beginning to suspect that India's unusual mix of polluted air, poor sanitation and contaminated water may make the country among the most dangerous in the world for lungs.
Mr Frank Hammes, chief executive of IQAir, a Swiss-based maker of air filters, said his company's sales were hundreds of times higher in China than in India.
He said: "In China, people are extremely concerned about the air, especially (for) children. Why there's not the same concern in India is puzzling."
All of this has led some wealthy Indians to consider leaving. Mr Annat Jain, a private-equity investor who returned to India in 2001 after spending 12 years in the US, said his father died last year of heart failure worsened by breathing problems.
Now, his four-year-old daughter must undergo breathing treatments for asthma twice a day.
He said: "Whenever we leave the country, everyone goes back to breathing normally.
"It's something my wife and I talk about constantly."