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Indian Capital Suffering From Serious Air Pollution

The Indian capital city of Delhi has some of the most polluted air in the world. In November 2018, the pollutants in the city reached 20 times the World Health Organization’s recommended safe limits. One year later, people in the city are still forced to breathe in polluted air.

A polluted megacity

According to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi’s levels of particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) are going down, peaking during the 2012-2014 period. PM2.5 particulates in the 2016-18 period were 25 percent lower than between 2012 and 2014. However, this does not mean that the air quality of Delhi has improved in any way. The city remains filled with toxic gases and pollutants that harm anyone breathing them in.

“The CSE report points out that Delhi still has to reduce its current PM2.5 concentrations by 65 percent to meet national clean air targets. Their analysis of official pollution data for 2018 shows that the Delhi-wide average concentration of PM2.5 last year was 115 micrograms per cubic metre. The national standard is set at 40, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has an annual average guideline of just 10 micrograms per cubic metre,” according to the BBC.

A major reason for the highly polluted air is Delhi’s location. The city is situated close to the states of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in these two states harvest crops in mid-October. During this time, the weather starts to change. Winter sets in and the wind changes direction, blowing from the northwest to the southeast. As such, the pollution caused by burning the stubble by farmers in Haryana and Punjab is carried into Delhi.

(Image: CIAT via wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0)
A major reason for Delhi’s poor air quality is that winter winds blow the pollution caused by burning stubble in Haryana and Punjab into the city. (Image: CIAT via wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0)

To resolve the issue, the Punjab Agriculture University has developed a new paddy variety that can be harvested in about 95 days. This is faster than the existing crop seeds that can take up to 130 days to mature. Adopting the new variety can enable harvesting to occur a month earlier, in mid-September. Burning crop stubble is expected to not cause many issues in Delhi in such a scenario. However, government action on the matter is pending.

Solving the pollution problem

Delhi has implemented a traffic rationing method known as the “odd-even scheme” to help address the problem. Vehicles with numbers ending in even digits will be allowed on roads on even dates and those with numbers ending in odd digits will be allowed on odd dates. Violators will be fined. However, experts are not too confident about the scheme. Sagnik Dey, the coordinator of the Centre of Excellence for Research on Clean Air at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, did a study on the scheme and found that it didn’t have any significant effect on the pollution levels in the city.

“The study concluded that traffic restrictions between January 1 and January 15, 2016, reduced PM 2.5 by 4-6 percent on average, and by a maximum of 10 percent at three locations. The failure of the scheme was attributed to stable meteorological conditions, which meant that winds were not strong enough to disperse PM 2.5 away, or impact the PM 2.5 outside the periphery of the city, where the scheme was not implemented,” he said to Business Standard.

(Image: Biswarup Ganguly via wikimedia CC BY 3.0)
Experts are not confident that the ‘odd-even scheme’ can have any significant effect on the pollution levels in Delhi. (Image: Biswarup Ganguly via wikimedia CC BY 3.0)

Air pollution has made many parents in the city worried. According to estimates, one child dies every three minutes in India from inhaling polluted air. Young children are also at risk of improper brain development since they breathe in the polluted air from infancy. According to the WHO, almost 98 percent of all children under the age of five in developing countries like India are exposed to high levels of PM2.5. In contrast, only 52 percent of kids under the age of 5 in high-income nations face this risk.

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