Nine of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution are located in South Asia, a report released by the World Bank last week said.

The report, titled “Striving for Clean Air: Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia”, was released on December 14.

The World Bank said that air pollution leads to an estimated 2 million premature deaths in the region every year.

“Large industries, powerplants and vehicles are dominant sources of air pollution around the world, but in South Asia, other sources make substantial additional contributions,” the international financial activists said. “These include combustion of solid fuels for cooking and heating, emissions from small industries such as brick kilns, burning of municipal and agricultural waste, and cremation.”

The report said that nearly 60% of the population in South Asia lives in areas where concentrations of PM2.5 exceed the World Health Organisation’s interim target level of 35 μg/m3.

“Even if all technically feasible measures were fully implemented, parts of South Asia would still not be able to meet the WHO Interim Target on their own by 2030 because of the spatial interdependence of air quality,” it said.

The World Bank said that although air pollution travels for long distances in South Asia, it does not disperse uniformly in the region, but gets trapped in large “airsheds” that are formed as a result of climatology and geography.

According to the report, there are six such airsheds in the region – the West/Central Indo-Gangetic Plain, Central/Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, eastern Gujarat and western Maharashtra, Northern/Central Indus River Plain and Southern Indus Plain.

The World Bank analysed four scenarios on the reduction of air pollution, on the basis of the extent of policy implementation and co-operation among countries.

“The most cost-effective scenario, which calls for full coordination between airsheds, would cut the average exposure of PM 2.5 in South Asia to 30 µg/m³ at a cost of $278 million [Rs 2,295.79 crore] per µg/mᶾ of reduced exposure, and save more than 750,000 lives annually,” it said.

The World Bank said that recent evidence from India suggests that cash transfers as payments for ecosystem services can reduce agricultural burning by up to 80%. It also emphasised on the need to use cleaner cookstoves and to reconsider subsidies for fertilisers.