With winter about to set in, the discussion over air pollution is back. In recent years, unmitigated levels of pollution in northern India, especially the National Capital Territory have been a cause of concern for healthcare specialists. Day-long smogs and haziness have become a regularity in Delhi during the last quarter of every year. The menace is back again and you should be very worried. This year, a lot more is at stake. This year, the danger is more acute. Let us get to the bottom of this yearly hazard.
What causes air pollution in Delhi?
Indian cities are some of the most polluted in the world because of our over-reliance on fossil fuels and inadequate filtering measures adopted by our factories. This is a common problem among all developing nations because they are reluctant to switch to clean and renewable energy as this will supposedly slow down production rates.
But Delhi’s pollution levels are worse than the rest of India’s during the October, November and December periods. And the primary reason behind that is –
The farmers of UP, Haryana, and Punjab, Delhi’s neighbours, set fire to the rice stubbles in the fields after the crops have been harvested. For them, this is a fast and cheap method of clearing away the fields and preparing them for the next planting season. But the stubble burning (estimated 35 million tonnes) continues for days and spews toxins and pollutants into the air. The winter wind currents blow the pollutants straight into Delhi.
Winter air usually locks in pollutants and dust particles, which is why pollution levels are naturally high in winters. So the particles blowing in from Delhi’s neighbouring states get trapped in Delhi’s air and every new day adds more to the pollution level.
Delhi has more registered vehicles in India than any other city. The exhaust emitted by the hundreds of thousands of vehicles makes the situation worse.
Adding to the woes is the complete disregard for the Supreme Court ban on most types of fireworks. Diwali usually coincides with the crop-burning and this causes irreparable damage to the air quality.
The situation so far
Since October this year, Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) is firmly in the ‘very poor’ zone. The PM10 level has been hovering around 370 and the level for PM2.5 has been around 229. Experts fear that this is going to worsen very soon, especially around the time of Diwali.
Why is Delhi’s air pollution lethal?
The Delhi Government has announced pollution to be a health emergency in Delhi because it has affected the health of more than 20 million people in the NCT. Surveys by reputed organizations revealed that 10,000-30,000 people in Delhi die because of health complications caused by air pollution.
This year the problem is more grave. Pollutants weaken our respiratory system. This makes a person more susceptible to deadly COVID infections. It also increases the risk of post-COVID complications such as lung damage.
What can be done to improve AQI?
The Union Government has effected a new pollution law and has created a new commission that will research methods to scale down air pollution. The government is looking for ways to enhance inter-sectional and inter-state collaboration so that the problems can be jointly tacked.
In the meantime, we, the common folks can do our part by avoiding fireworks. We should avail of public transport instead of traveling by private cars. Farmers too need to wake up to the fact that they may be ruining the environment. Agriculturists have urged the government to provide farmers with Waste Decomposers which will speedily convert stubble into manure.
Air pollution is a severe problem in India and it is time when we all became aware. Without active participation from citizens, there will be no solution to this hazard!