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“They are not unaware but, despite being aware, they deny,” says Dr Kumar, “The corrective measures that would be needed are unpleasant, and might make them lose votes rather than gain votes.” But environmentalist Sunita Narain, director-general of New Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment, says official attitudes have shifted since last winter’s catastrophic air emergency, when record pollution levels forced schools to close for several days.
The 2016 data, the latest available, show that, although both countries have a similar number of people breathing air above the safe limit, India has far more people living in heavily polluted areas.
The results are alarming: not just the number of people breathing in polluted air, but those breathing air contaminated with particulates that are multiple times over the level deemed safe — 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre — by the World Health Organisation.
The data show that more than 4.2bn people in Asia are breathing air many times dirtier than the WHO safe limit.
But in the past six years, half of Dr Kumar’s lung cancer patients have been non-smokers, about 40 per cent of them women.
Patients are younger too, with 8 per cent in their 30s and 40s.