With world's worst air, Indian city struggles to track pollution

KANPUR, India, May 16 (Reuters) - In the world's most polluted city, Kanpur in northern India, the biggest hospital is so overcrowded with patients with respiratory ailments that they are often bedded in the ophthalmology ward.

Kanpur, home to 3 million people, is followed by 13 other Indian cities in a list of the places with the worst air in the world, according to rankings released this month by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Prem Singh, head of the department of medicine in Kanpur's Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Memorial Medical College, said the number of patients the hospital receives with respiratory illnesses has more than tripled over the past five years to 600 a month, most of them children and people over 50 years old.

"Every week a lung cancer patient walks in; earlier we would get one in three months," said Singh.

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Pollution in Kanpur, India
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Pollution in Kanpur, India
Sitaram Diwakar, 75, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patient, lies on bed as his family members stand next to him at a hospital in Kanpur, India, May 3, 2018. Picture taken May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Smoke billows as a truck drives past the waste of leather tanneries at a dumpyard in Kanpur, India, May 3, 2018. Picture taken May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Men row a boat in the river Ganges as smoke emits from a chimney of a leather tannery at an industrial area in Kanpur, India, May 4, 2018. Picture taken May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A boy jumps over a drain flowing with waste water from the leather tanneries into the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, May 3, 2018. Picture taken May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Sitaram Diwakar, 75, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patient lies on bed as his family members stand next to him at a hospital in Kanpur, India, May 3, 2018. Picture taken May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Chimneys of leather tanneries are seen in Kanpur, India, May 3, 2018. Picture taken May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Untreated waste water from leather tanneries flow into the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, May 3, 2018. Picture taken May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A worker wearing a mask pauses as he works inside a leather tannery at an industrial area in Kanpur, India, May 3, 2018. Picture taken May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A man stands on a hill as smoke emits from a chimney of a leather tannery at an industrial area in Kanpur, India, May 4, 2018. Picture taken May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A worker makes leather belts outside a tannery on the banks of river Ganges in Kanpur, India, May 4, 2018. Picture taken May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Layers of foam float in a sewage drain flowing into the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui SEARCH "SIDDIQUI GANGES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Fruit and vegetables are seen on a boat in the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui SEARCH "SIDDIQUI GANGES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Indian commuters drive along a dusty road in the city of Kanpur of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on May 2, 2018. - Residents of Kanpur reacted with dismay on May 2 after the Indian city was named the world's most polluted in a World Health Organisation survey that urged the Asian powerhouse to clean up its air. The northern city, known for its leather and shoe industries, led 14 Indian cities that topped the WHO's 15 most polluted cities. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian commuters drive along a street in the city of Kanpur of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on May 2, 2018. - Residents of Kanpur reacted with dismay on May 2 after the Indian city was named the world's most polluted in a World Health Organisation survey that urged the Asian powerhouse to clean up its air. The northern city, known for its leather and shoe industries, led 14 Indian cities that topped the WHO's 15 most polluted cities. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Indian commuters drive along a busy road as pedestrians try to cross a zebra crossing in the city of Kanpur of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on May 2, 2018. - Residents of Kanpur reacted with dismay on May 2 after the Indian city was named the world's most polluted in a World Health Organisation survey that urged the Asian powerhouse to clean up its air. The northern city, known for its leather and shoe industries, led 14 Indian cities that topped the WHO's 15 most polluted cities. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A train travels along a bridge over the Ganges river in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India on Sunday, May 31, 2015. India plans to order 80 billion-rupees ($1.3 billion) of sewage plants before next June to clean waste water in 118 towns on the banks of the Ganges, its holiest river, according to the nation's water ministry. Photographer: Udit Kulshrestha/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A row boat moves towards the banks of the Ganges river as people fishing look on near the Ganges Barrage bridge in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India on Sunday, May 31, 2015. India plans to order 80 billion-rupees ($1.3 billion) of sewage plants before next June to clean waste water in 118 towns on the banks of the Ganges, its holiest river, according to the nation's water ministry. Photographer: Udit Kulshrestha/Bloomberg via Getty Images
To go with India-environment-Ganges-pollution by Bhuvan BAGGA Indian labourers unload buffalo hides to be made into leather at a tannery in the Sanjay Nagar Jajmau area of Kanpur on June 26, 2014. Standing on the banks of the river Ganges a day after his election triumph, Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to succeed where numerous governments have failed: by cleaning up the filthy waterway beloved of India's Hindus. Success would pay huge dividends in endearing him further to his core Hindu supporters -- and correcting the long-standing neglect of the river would perfectly demonstrate his fabled administrative skills. But nowhere is the scale of the challenge more evident than in the northern town of Kanpur, around 500 kilometres (300 miles) from the capital, which is known for its large leather-treatment industry. AFP PHOTO/SANJAY KANOJIA (Photo credit should read Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with India-environment-Ganges-pollution by Bhuvan BAGGA Indian child Prachi, who suffers from a skin disease claimed to be caused by polluted water from the river Ganges, poses outside her home in the Jaana Gao area of Kanpur on June 26, 2014. Standing on the banks of the river Ganges a day after his election triumph, Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to succeed where numerous governments have failed: by cleaning up the filthy waterway beloved of India's Hindus. Success would pay huge dividends in endearing him further to his core Hindu supporters -- and correcting the long-standing neglect of the river would perfectly demonstrate his fabled administrative skills. But nowhere is the scale of the challenge more evident than in the northern town of Kanpur, around 500 kilometres (300 miles) from the capital, which is known for its large leather-treatment industry. AFP PHOTO/SANJAY KANOJIA (Photo credit should read Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Problems from air pollution are on the rise and leading to multiple diseases such as bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia."

In the adjoining room, a 45-year old man lay gasping as his family members circled around him amid the stench and dust. A doctor attending to him said the man was suffering from chronic respiratory disease, partly due to air pollution, that had destroyed one of his lungs.

The corridors of the hospital, one of the biggest in the country's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, are packed with patients and their families, laid on mats or squatting in groups. [https://reut.tv/2rK2jMa ]

The WHO ranking is based on 2016 data from the Central Pollution Control Board on the amount of particulate matter (PM) under 2.5 micrograms - the smallest, most dangerous particles that can lodge deep in the lungs - found in every cubic meter of air.

The WHO says globally about 7 million people die every year from breathing polluted air that can lead to heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Most of the deaths happen in poor Asian and African countries.

Kanpur's chief pollution officer, Kuldeep Misra, rejected the tag of the world's most polluted city.

"If the situation was as bad as the WHO describes, we would have been dead by now," he said in an interview in his office.

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India's Mother Ganga destroyed from pollution
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India's Mother Ganga destroyed from pollution
Layers of foam float in a sewage drain flowing into the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Dyed leather pieces dry near the banks of the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Fruit and vegetables are seen on a boat in the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Untreated sewage from a residential area flows into the river Ganges in Mirzapur, India, April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A Hindu devotee holds up his clothes after taking a dip in the river Ganges in Devprayag, India, March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A Hindu devotee baths at the confluence of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers which form the Ganges in Devprayag, India, March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A man sits next to a damaged idol of Hindu goddess Kali which was taken out after its immersion in the river Ganges in Haridwar, India, March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Hindu priests sit inside a cave as they perform evening prayers on the banks of the river Ganges in Devprayag, India, March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Lokesh Sharma, 19, a Hindu priest, performs evening prayers on the banks of the river Ganges in Devprayag, India, March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
The confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers form the river Ganges at Devprayag, India, March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A man dries his trousers after washing them on the banks of the river Ganges in Haridwar, India, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Offerings by Hindu devotees float in the river Ganges in Haridwar, India, March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Untreated sewage flows from an open drain into the river Ganges in Mirzapur, India, April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A woman herds her goats through a drain flowing into the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
An employee works inside a leather tannery at an industrial area in Kanpur, India, April 1, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A damaged idol of Hindu goddess Kali is seen in the river Ganges in Haridwar, India, March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Untreated sewage flows from an open drain into the river Ganges in Kanpur, India, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Polluted water in the river Ganges is seen in Kanpur, India, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Hindu devotees offer evening prayers on the banks of the river Ganges in Haridwar, India, March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Relatives immerse a body in the river Ganges prior to cremation in Varanasi, India, April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Students from a Hindu religious school practice yoga on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India, April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Labourers work at brick kilns along the river Ganges in Raytala, south of Kolkata, India, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A boy runs past a pile of garbage along the river Ganges in Mirzapur, India, April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A portrait of Hindu god Ganesh, the deity of prosperity, is seen on a boat on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India, April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A Hindu devotee carries his daughter after a religious ceremony on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India, April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A man washes himself on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India, April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Hindu devotees cross the river Ganges on a boat in Varanasi, India, April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A man cleans garbage along the banks of the river Ganges in Kolkata, India, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A Hindu devotee carries water from the river Ganges in Kolkata, India, April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
People ride a ferry on the river Ganges in Kolkata, India, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
People sleep on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India, April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Temples and residential buildings are seen on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi, India, April 8, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
People get a massage from a traditional masseuse under a bridge on the banks of the river Ganges in Kolkata, India, April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Hindu pilgrims visit the confluence of the river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal, at Sagar Island, south of Kolkata, India, April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A lamp lit by a Hindu pilgrim is seen at the confluence of the river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal, at Sagar Island, south of Kolkata, India, April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
Workers repair a boat along the river Ganges in Hanra, south of Kolkata, India, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui 
A Hindu pilgrim leaves after taking a dip at the confluence of the river Ganges and the Bay of Bengal, at Sagar Island, south of Kolkata, India, April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui SEARCH "SIDDIQUI GANGES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
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"THIS WAS COMING"

In an article for the British medical journal The Lancet, experts from more than 100 institutions including the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said that Uttar Pradesh had the second highest incidence of obstructive lung disease linked to air pollution among all Indian states as of 2016. The neighboring desert state of Rajasthan topped the list.

But, like most other Indian cities, Kanpur does not have the infrastructure to fight air pollution, federal environment ministry officials say.

Only a handful of the country's 100 most polluted cities have action plans to combat air pollution, despite being asked by the federal government to do so in 2015.

In Kanpur, the industrial hub of Uttar Pradesh, particulate matter such as dust and soot accounted for around 76 percent of air pollution during the winter months, according to a 2015 report by the government-run Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in the city. Biomass burning accounted for around 15 percent and emissions from vehicles about 8 percent in Kanpur, around 475 km (295 miles) southeast of Delhi on India's northern plains.

In summer, particulate matter and vehicles emissions were equal contributors to air pollution, at around 35 percent each.

"The state government does not have the mechanism to understand the sources of air pollution, how will they tackle it?" asked Sachchida Nand Tripathi, a professor in IIT Kanpur, who is working with the federal environment ministry to track particulate matter in real time.

"The state needs to act. This was very much coming."

Big cities such as Kanpur need at least five stations to monitor PM 2.5 polluting the air and take remedial measures, a federal environment ministry official said, declining to be identified.

Chief Pollution officer Misra said Kanpur was taking action.

Misra said the city has just one station to monitor PM 2.5, and only started tracking the metric actively in 2015. His office has asked the state's pollution control headquarters to buy four more such monitors, he said.

He said the local government planned to build new roads and set up an urban train service to cut car pollution. It would also plant more trees and promote battery-operated transport, he said, declining to give any deadlines for the cited actions.

He acknowledged that Kanpur's air exceeded government-set safe limits, based on the concentration of larger pollutants such as PM 10 over the past few years, but added that the city's own data showed pollution in general had not spiked despite higher industrial activity.

NO FREE CLEAN AIR?

In Kanpur, coal burned by industry, emissions from vehicles plying mostly unpaved roads and proliferating tanneries combine to produce a toxic cocktail of airborne pollution.

In one suburban neighborhood on the banks of the Ganges, a river considered holy by Hindus, sewage and leather scraps flowed into the water, turning it black and slimy. A $3 billion national plan to clean the river is running behind schedule.

Kanpur's lone station tracking PM 2.5 is located in a bustling marketplace in the city's center.

"We have been asked to track only PM 2.5. I just have one machine to either track PM 2.5 or PM 10," said operator Rajesh Gupta, standing by a jumble of machines and wires, idols of Hindu gods placed nearby. On a terrace above the two-room station, a large display showed live pollution data.

The environment ministry in New Delhi, meanwhile, is considering spending about 7 billion rupees ($104 million) this fiscal year to help cities like Kanpur add more air-quality monitoring systems and buy equipment like water-sprinklers to settle dust.

"It's the shared responsibility of the center and state governments," said Nandikesh Sivalingam, a campaigner with Greenpeace India. "If a state like Uttar Pradesh demands funds, it's fair because it's facing some big infrastructure challenges."

A senior environment ministry official, who declined to be named citing government policy, said states and municipalities should now budget for air like they do for water.

"The time for free clean air may be over," he said. ($1 = 67.5500 Indian rupees)

(Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra Editing by Krishna N. Das, Sanjeev Miglani and Alex Richardson)

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