Business, Finance & Economics

India sinks on Yale Environment Index as air pollution worsens


Indian children search for coins thrown in the polluted Yamuna river by Hindu devotees for ritual offerings in New Delhi on January 22, 2012. River Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers of the country despite of the numerous efforts made to keep it clean. The main reason for pollution is the high density of the population living in the city and the dumping of untreated water and waste into the river. As per the figures, Delhi alone contributes around 3,296 MLD (million liters per day) of sewage in the river.



India fell to 125 out of 132 countries in the Yale Environmental Performance Index (EPI), despite making incremental improvements in many areas.  When I wrote about the EPI for Newsweek in 2008, India was ranked 120.

So what gives?  Indian environmental activists argue that the EPI is weighted too heavily to reflect progress (or lack of progress) in fighting climate change, which may explain why India dropped in the rankings. But India's performance is pretty bad in other areas, too, such as air pollution and water use.

In 2008, when I wrote my Newsweek piece, water and sanitation were India's worst performers:

Lack of sanitation is one of India's many environmental problems. On Yale and Columbia's Environmental Performance Index, it scores a miserable 21 on sanitation, compared with 67 for the region and 48 for its income group. That helps push the country's overall ranking to 120th, below all its income peers except Angola and Cambodia.

This go-around, though, a cursory read suggests that air pollution has become a bigger problem (likely due to an increase in vehicles and industrialization).  On "water effects on human health" -- which we called sanitation in Newsweek, India scored 24.7 this time, ranking 104 out of 132 countries.  Meanwhile, on air pollution India scored a grim 3.7 to come in dead last out of 132 nations.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, representatives of EPI said the performance of India and China, among other nations, reflected the challenges of balancing economic development with environmental concerns, according to India's Economic Times newspaper.

"Of the emerging economies, China and India rank 116th and 125th respectively, reflecting the strain rapid economic growth imposes on the environment," the paper quoted the organization as saying.

Incidentally, the U.S. -- which also hasn't done too well on reducing CO2 emissions per capita -- doesn't get a free pass.

Going by the report, the US is placed 49th, with strong results on some issues, such as water and air pollution management but weak performance on others, including greenhouse gas emissions and renewable electricity generation.

"This ranking puts the US significantly behind other industrialised nations, including France (6th), the United Kingdom (9th), Germany (11th), and Japan (23rd)," according to the EPI.