According to the World Bank, the endeavour includes the introduction of airshed management tools, the development of State-wide Air Quality Action Plans, and the creation of the first extensive Regional Airshed Action Plan for the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP), encompassing seven union territories and states.
Recent data reveals that every individual in India is exposed to unhealthy levels of PM2.5, a particularly hazardous airborne pollutant.
PM2.5, particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns, pose severe health risks, leading to ailments such as lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease. In 2019 alone, air pollution was responsible for 1.67 million deaths in India, constituting 17.8 per cent of the total mortality rate.
The economic toll was equally significant, with losses of USD 36.8 billion, equivalent to 1.36 per cent of India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), attributed to premature deaths and morbidity caused by air pollution.
PM2.5 emissions in India arise from diverse sources, including the combustion of fossil fuels, biomass burning, and windblown dust from construction sites and industrial plants.
Alarmingly, over half of these emissions are formed in a "secondary" manner in the upper atmosphere, where various gaseous pollutants from different areas mix, contributing to the widespread and cross-border impact of air pollution.
Recognizing the multi-sectoral and multi-jurisdictional nature of India's air pollution challenge, the World Bank advocates for an "airshed" approach.
An airshed, defined as a region with a common flow of air, extends beyond city boundaries, emphasizing the need for coordinated efforts at the sub-national level.
India has undertaken significant steps to address air pollution, revising ambient air quality standards, strengthening emission standards for vehicles and industries, and promoting renewable energy and electric vehicles.
"Persistently hazardous levels of air pollution have caused a major public health crisis in South Asia that demands urgent action. Curbing air pollution requires not only tackling its specific sources but also close coordination across local and national jurisdictional boundaries. Regional cooperation can help implement cost-effective joint strategies that leverage the interdependent nature of air quality," Vice President for South Asia, World Bank Martin Raiser said.
The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), a pivotal government initiative, sets a time-bound goal to improve air quality across the country, with a particular focus on around 132 "non-attainment" cities where pollution standards are not met.
The government's commitment is underscored by the allocation of approximately USD 1.7 billion, based on the 15th Finance Commission's recommendations, to combat air pollution in 42 cities with million-plus populations.
This innovative performance-based fiscal transfer funding program is the world's first for air quality management in cities, requiring a 15 per cent annual reduction in pollution levels.
The World Bank's involvement in India's Air Quality Management (AQM) is part of a phased strategy outlined in its Country Partnership Framework.
Leveraging insights from similar projects in Mexico and China, the World Bank focuses on the densely populated Indo-Gangetic Plain, where pollution intensity is high, and the capacity to address the challenge requires significant support.
The AQM initiative introduces tools for airshed management, facilitates the creation of State Air Quality Action Plans, and develops the first extensive Regional Airshed Action Plan for the IGP.
Collaborative efforts with academic institutions and practitioners involve modelling to enhance air quality management in the region.
Air quality management is recognized as an ongoing process that necessitates integration into government capabilities, business practices, and individual behaviour.
The World Bank emphasizes the importance of airshed-wide coordination, acknowledging that substantial pollution reductions cannot be achieved by addressing local emissions alone.
India's convergence with climate change initiatives, such as the solar-energy revolution, presents an opportunity for co-benefits.
A study by the World Bank and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) suggests that focusing on air pollution could significantly reduce India's CO2 emissions, contributing to climate change mitigation.
As the World Bank continues to support Indian cities and states in implementing airshed plans, the focus remains on institutional capabilities, system implementation, and collaboration with stakeholders.
The goal is to reduce air pollution within a generation, drawing on successful strategies employed by other countries facing similar challenges.
In conclusion, the comprehensive approach by the World Bank aligns with India's commitment to cleaner air, sustainable development, and the well-being of its citizens.
With collaborative efforts and innovative strategies, the endeavour seeks to create a paradigm shift in India's fight against air pollution.