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South Asia: A Global Pollution Hotspot

Why is it in the news?

  • Toxic air pollution is a recurring issue in South Asia, particularly during the winter months when cold, heavy air traps pollution in a thick layer of smog.
  • South Asia is recognized as a global hotspot for air pollution, with four of the world’s most polluted countries and nine of the top 10 most polluted cities located in the region.


Factors Contributing to Pollution in South Asia

  • Industrialization and Economic Growth: Rapid industrialization, economic development, and population growth in South Asian countries over the past two decades have led to increased demand for energy and fossil fuels.
  • Unique Contributors: Some pollution sources are unique to South Asia, including solid fuel combustion for cooking and heating, human cremation, and burning of agricultural waste.
  • Stubble Burning: For example, in New Delhi, 38% of pollution in a given year has been caused by stubble burning, a practice to clear fields after rice harvest, in neighbouring states like Punjab and Haryana.
  • Increase in Vehicles: The region has seen a significant increase in the number of vehicles on the roads, with countries like India and Pakistan experiencing a four-fold increase in vehicle numbers since the early 2000s.


Challenges in Pollution Control

  • Lack of Coordination: Despite efforts to curb pollution, there is a lack of coordination on pollution control measures between South Asian countries.
  • Cross-Border Impact: Dust particles and pollutants can travel long distances, crossing national boundaries and impacting neighbouring countries. For example, about 30% of pollution in Bangladesh’s largest cities originates in India.
  • Limited Effectiveness: Country-wide or city-wide measures have limited effectiveness in curbing transboundary pollution.


Suggested measures

  • Regional Coordination: South Asian countries need to coordinate their efforts to tackle the pollution problem effectively. Collaborative initiatives should focus on enhancing monitoring and making policy decisions.
  • Localized Solutions: Solutions should be tailored to local conditions where needed, recognizing the diversity of environmental challenges across the region.
  • Expansion of Focus: Efforts to reduce pollution should extend beyond traditional areas to include sectors like agriculture and waste management.
  • Subsidies and Incentives: Governments can offer subsidies on better harvesting machines to curb practices like stubble burning, but factors like high purchase cost and long waiting times for machine rental need to be addressed.

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