The state minister refers to a ranking index on air quality to claim that Sri Lanka has significantly improved its air quality standing in Asia and in the world between 2018 and the present.
To verify this claim, FactCheck.lk consulted the 2018 and 2021 (latest available) World Air Quality Report (WAQR). These reports were the only primary source that the FactCheck.lk team was able to find that provided global statistics and comparisons on air quality. The WAQR is an annual publication by IQAir, who operates a platform that reports real-time and historic PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) air quality data from 117 countries and 6,475 cities around the world. PM2.5 is an air pollutant consisting of fine aerosol particles measuring 2.5 microns or smaller in diameter. It is widely accepted as the most harmful aerosol particles to human health, because it is small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream in addition to being deposited in the lungs.
The state minister refers to regional rankings in terms of Asia. FactCheck.lk was not able to find such rankings, however, the WAQR reports did provide regional rankings in terms of South Asia and South and Central Asia.
The 2018 WAQR reported that Sri Lanka ranked 6th in South Asia and 18th globally on high air pollution levels, with an average PM2.5 concentration of 32.0µg/m³. Meanwhile according to the 2021 WAQR, Sri Lanka ranked 12th in South and Central Asia and 58th globally, with an average PM2.5 concentration of 17.4µg/m³.
This data confirms the state minster’s claim that Sri Lanka’s air quality has improved in both regional and global rankings. Between 2018 and 2021, Sri Lanka’s air quality improved in absolute terms as well; according to the WAQR, the average concentration of PM2.5 in Sri Lanka’s air almost halved in this period.
Therefore, we classify his statement as TRUE.
*FactCheck.lk’s verdict is based on the most recent information that is publicly accessible. As with every fact check, if new information becomes available, FactCheck.lk will revisit the assessment.
Additional Note: Despite significant gains in the quality of Sri Lanka’s air over recent years, Sri Lanka has been experiencing extremely poor air quality around the time of the state minister’s statement. A PM2.5 concentration between 55.5-150.4µg/m³, classified as ‘unhealthy’, has been reported in major cities across the island. www.airquality.lk provides Sri Lanka’s only real-time air quality data with technical correction factors applied for enhanced accuracy. In partnership with the government, it has air quality data for many Sri Lankan cities, and guidance on protective measures based on air quality.
Exhibit 1: Sri Lanka’s Air Quality Rankings Over the Years
Source: World Air Quality Report 2018, World Air Quality Report 2021
* In South Asia
** In South and Central Asia
Exhibit 2: Safety Classification of the Concentration of PM2.5 in the Air
IQAir, World Air Quality Report 2021. Accessed via,Available at; https://www.iqair.com/world-air-quality-report.[Last accessed 15 December 2022]
IQAir, World Air Quality Report 2018. Accessed via,Available at; https://www.iqair.com/world-most-polluted-countries.[Last accessed 15 December 2022]