India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced today that his country will take new steps to address their growing air pollution problem. Speaking from Delhi, Modi said the Indian government will begin monitoring air quality in 10 cities, including the capital, which has become the most polluted city in the world.
The new index will track the amount of pollutants in the cities using global standards and make that information publicly available. Modi called the move a first step in signaling to the world that India is not ignoring the issue of climate change.
“The world thinks India doesn’t care about the environment,” he said. “We must change that… India has always respected the environment.”
India has become one of the world’s most polluted countries. According to the World Health Organization , 13 of the 20 most polluted cities are in India, and nearly 620,000 people die annually due to pollution-related diseases. In Delhi alone, the amount of dangerous particulates in the air was nearly six times the WHO’s recommended maximum.
Modi blamed much of the problem on changing lifestyles, and India’s pollution can be attributed to the rapid increase of automobiles as well as industrial activity. Though Modi did not offer specific actions his government would take to limit emissions, he said his country could look to India’s “age-old traditions.”
Among them, he said was relying more on bicycles for transportation as well as turning off street lights during full moons.
Anumita Roychowdhury, the head of the air pollution program at New Delhi’s Center for Science and Environment, called the moves promising. He told Voice of America that while getting people to change their habits may be difficult, the new indexing system could raise awareness.
“If people understand what air pollution is doing to their health, then all these hard decisions now we need to take, we can build public support on that,” he said.
Others, however, were less than impressed. Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva told Agence France Presse that the new monitoring system would do little to stop pollution.
“It’s like finding a very sick person and instead of treating him, you hand him a thermometer. You have to take strict policy action, not launch symbolic measures,” she said.