China gets all the attention when it comes to terrible air quality, but the truth is that the worst day in Beijing is really just an average day in Delhi. Though it gets far less notice, the air in Delhi is some of the most polluted on the planet. In fact, India’s citizens have some of the weakest lungs, highest rates of asthma and highest mortality rates from respiratory issues of any nation in the world.

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This January, Beijing closed major highways and issued urgent health warnings to those living within its borders. On the other hand, life in Delhi has gone on like normal, despite the fact that on average the city’s harmful air particulates are nearly double that of Beijing. Delhi averaged a measurement of 473, while Beijing averaged 227. But that’s just an average day – Beijing reached its worst day, a measurement of above 500 (the highest range that the scale can reach) on January 15. Delhi, on the other hand, had reached that measurement range 8 times by mid-January. Even more concerning, Delhi’s peak pollution levels have increased 44% over the past year.

In the past, researchers have assumed that the Indian’s diminished air capacity was genetic, but studies show that children of Indian immigrants born and raised in the US have better lung function than those born and raised in India. Even more shocking, about half of all doctor visits in India are related to respiratory problems. The issue has gotten so bad that some wealthy citizens are actually considering leaving the country. Some citizens, however, when interviewed by the New York Times, claimed to be unaware of the city’s pollution problem. With little pressure on the government to resolve air quality issues from citizens or the media, Delhi’s air will continue to cause harm until people demand something better.

Via NYT and Business Insider

images from Tim Gage and Jeff McNeill