Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The world's largest coronavirus lockdown is having a dramatic impact on pollution in India

When India imposed a national blockade a week ago, it was designed to stop the impending spread of the new corona virus.
But demolishing this country of 1.3 billion people almost completely has also provided a temporary remedy for another pressing health problem: stifling levels of pollution.


The world's largest blockade means that all factories, markets, shops, and houses of worship are now closed, most public transport suspended, and construction work halted as India asks its citizens to stay home and practice social distancing. So far, India has more than 1,300 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 35 deaths.

The data already shows that major cities are registering much lower levels of harmful microscopic particles known as PM 2.5, and of nitrogen dioxide, which is released by vehicles and power plants.
PM 2.5, which is less than 2.5 microns in diameter, is considered particularly dangerous as it can lodge deep in the lungs and pass into other organs and the bloodstream, causing serious health risks.
The sudden drop in pollutants and subsequent blue skies indicate a dramatic change for India, which has 21 of the world's 30 most polluted cities, according to the 2019 IQAir AirVisual World Air Quality Report.


Air pollution in New Delhi reaches "unbearable" levels

Air pollution in New Delhi reaches "unbearable" levels 01:14

(CNN) When India imposed a national blockade a week ago, it was designed to stop the impending spread of the new corona virus.
But demolishing this country of 1.3 billion people almost completely has also provided a temporary remedy for another pressing health problem: stifling levels of pollution.
The world's largest blockade means that all factories, markets, shops, and houses of worship are now closed, most public transport suspended, and construction work halted as India asks its citizens to stay home and practice social distancing. So far, India has more than 1,300 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 35 deaths.

The data already shows that major cities are registering much lower levels of harmful microscopic particles known as PM 2.5, and of nitrogen dioxide, which is released by vehicles and power plants.
PM 2.5, which is less than 2.5 microns in diameter, is considered particularly dangerous as it can lodge deep in the lungs and pass into other organs and the bloodstream, causing serious health risks.

The sudden drop in pollutants and subsequent blue skies indicate a dramatic change for India, which has 21 of the world's 30 most polluted cities, according to the 2019 IQAir AirVisual World Air Quality Report.

In the capital New Delhi, government data shows that the average PM 2.5 concentration fell 71% in the space of a week, dropping from 91 micrograms per cubic meter on March 20 to 26 on March 27, after the shutdown started. The World Health Organization considers that something over 25 is not safe.
Data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), part of the Indian Ministry of Environment, was collected by the Clean Air and Energy Research Center (CREA).

Nitrogen dioxide went from 52 per cubic meter to 15 in the same period, also a drop of 71%. Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore have also recorded a drop in these air pollutants.

"I have not seen blue skies in Delhi in the last 10 years," said Jyoti Pande Lavakare, co-founder of the Indian environmental organization Care for Air, and author of the upcoming book "Breathing here is detrimental to your health."
"It is a positive side in terms of this terrible crisis that we can get out and breathe."

            Lower traffic pollution

Even before the national shutdown began on March 25, phased closures in India were having an impact.
During the first three weeks of March, average nitrogen dioxide levels decreased by 40-50% in the cities of Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad, compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019, said Gufran Beig, a scientist at Sistema Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) under the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences.
"The reduction in fossil fuel emissions due to the transportation sector and the slowdown in other emissions-related activities are slowly reducing air pollutants," said Beig.

The nationwide curfew in India on March 22 also resulted in the lowest levels of one-day traffic pollution on record, the CREA analysis said. Other dangerous pollutants, PM2.5 and the largest PM10, which are less than 10 micrometers in diameter, also fell abruptly, the report added.

"It is highly likely that even the record for March 22 will be broken, and we are seeing increasingly clean days as industries, transportation, and energy generation and demand shrink across the country," said Sunil Dahia, a New Delhi-based analyst for CREA.

Similar patterns have been seen showing drastic drops in pollution levels in parts of Europe and China since their blockades, as industry and transportation networks are virtually paralyzed.

But these data are no reason to celebrate, Dahia said.
"This is a really serious situation that everyone is dealing with," Dahia said.
"Pollution is decreasing, but we cannot allow the suffering of so many human beings to be the way to clean the air," Dahia said. "We can only use the corona virus outbreak as a learning lesson for us."

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