March 31, 2023

General Studies Paper 2


  • A World Bank study on air pollution concludes that about two million people die prematurely in South Asia each year. Particulate measure concentrations put nine South Asian cities among the world’s top 10 worst affected by air pollution.

World Bank study on air pollution-Striving for Clean Air: Air Pollution and Public Health in South Asia:

  • Nine out of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution are in South Asia.
  • Concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in region’s most densely populated and poor areas are up to 20 times higher than what WHO considers healthy (5 µg/mᶾ).
  • Causes: An estimated 2 million premature deaths in the region each year and incurs significant economic costs.

What were the objectives of report:

  • This report identifies six major airsheds in the region.
  • West/Central Indo-Gangetic Plain: Punjab (Pakistan), Punjab (India), Haryana, part of Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh
  • Central/Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain: Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bangladesh
  • Middle India: Odisha/Chhattisgarh
  • Middle India: Eastern Gujarat/Western Maharashtra
  • Northern/Central Indus River Plain: Pakistan, part of Afghanistan
  • Southern Indus Plain and further west: South Pakistan, Western Afghanistan extending into Eastern Iran.
  • It analyzes four scenarios to reduce air pollution with varying degrees of policy implementation and cooperation among countries:
  • Ad-hoc selection of measures
  • Maximum technically feasible emissions reductions
  • Compliance with WHO Interim Target 1 everywhere in South Asia
  • Toward the next lower WHO Interim Target.
  • It offers a roadmap for airshed-wide air quality management.


  • It refers to particles that have a diameter less than 5 micrometers and remain suspended for longer.
  • These particles are formed as a result of burning fuel and chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere.
  • Natural processes such as forest fires also contribute to PM2.5 in the air.
  • They are the primary reason for the occurrence of smog.

Analysis of PM2.5:

  • Bhutan: Average PM 2.5 concentration from 2018-2020 was three times WHO prescribed limits.
  • Maldives Meteorological Service warned that visibility had been reduced by 60% due to smog.

Suggestions in report:

  • Asking India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and all other South Asian countries to begin talks between scientists, officials and eventually ministers and leaders
  • Create a mechanism for the cooperative management of the six air sheds the region is made up of.


  • South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations are members of the Group of 77 Developing countries: under the chairpersonship of Pakistan last year already negotiated a breakthrough at the COP27 Climate Change summit at Sharm el-Sheikh

Issues in South Asia:

  • India and Pakistan: Continue to point to past disputes as the reason to:
  • Hold up South Asian summits such as SAARC
  • block trade
  • connectivity
  • other avenues for cooperation

Why should India and Pakistan cooperate?

  • Geopolitical challenge is pushing the region to work more closely together like:
  • Climate change
  • Ukraine war
  • Costs of procuring energy, grain, fertilizers all soaring
  • Persistent global economic recession
  • More variants of the COVID-19 virus
  • Terrorism: especially arising from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.


  • Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” and “diplomacy and dialogue: Can be used to resolve the conflict sound hollow when compared to India and Pakistan’s act of holding up the SAARC Summit
  • India can virtually hold a special meeting for the “Global South”, with the impact of the Ukraine war on the agenda
  • Convene or participate in a regional dialogue to discuss the issue, or include the regional agenda in its G-20 narrative.
  • Opportunities for regional cooperation in health security are being missed.
  • India has worked bilaterally with most of its neighbors to provide vaccines and COVID-19 medicines.
  • Unilaterally extend copyright waivers on medical products within South Asia of the sort India has proposed.
  • Terrorism: the contradictions between can be discussed at broader multilaterals, but not in the region, are manifold:

Some previous steps:

  • In 2022, India and Pakistan: exchanged teams as part of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS)
  • India was part of the Financial Action Task Force grouping that let Pakistan off its terror financing “greylist”.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation(SAARC):

  • The SAARC was established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
  • Founding countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
  • Afghanistan joined SAARC at the 13th annual summit in 2005.
  • The Headquarters and Secretariat of the Association are at Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Cooperation within the framework of the SAARC is based on:
  • Respect for the principles of sovereign equality
  • Territorial integrity
  • Political independence
  • Non-interference in the internal affairs of other States
  • Mutual benefit.
  • Areas of Cooperation:
  1. Human Resource Development and Tourism
  2. Agriculture and Rural Development
  3. Environment, Natural Disasters and Biotechnology
  4. Economic, Trade and Finance
  5. Social Affairs
  6. Information and Poverty Alleviation
  7. Energy, Transport, Science and Technology
  8. Education, Security and Culture and Others

Way Forward

  • Including Countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, European alpine nations and China: the solution to the problems of air pollution lies in a “whole of region” approach, and is not one that any one country in the “air sheds” can resolve on its own.
  • The failure to build a regional defense to the issues arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and from NATO sanctions, trade ban and weapons stockpiling
  • South Asia has missed the chance to position itself as an energy “cartel” commanding a better price for the region.
  • Crude dependencies, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India buy more than 50% of their liquefied natural gas through the spot market.
  • It indicates how vulnerable they are to global energy trends.
  • In the process of rank lack of logical behavior: Any chance of coordinating or cooperating against the developing chaos in Afghanistan, and countering extra-regional terror threats are also lost for South Asia.
  • Delink PM’s presence from the SAARC summit(next in Pakistan): instead have the President or the Vice-President to represent India.
  • A quid pro quo could even see Pakistan send a replacement for its Prime Minister to the SCO Heads of State summit due to be held in India in June.
  • It is necessary for the future to delink South Asian cooperation from the summit itself, and allow other parts of the agenda ( health, energy, women’s rights, security and terrorism) to be held even if a leadership event is not.
  • Reviving SAARC by infusing political energy into it and updating its dated Charter will be an ideal way forward.
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