The benefits of lockdown: India is breathing cleaner air

Every cloud has a silver lining, they say. And sometimes, the silver lining is in the clouds themselves, as they become cleaner. Lockdown seems to be behind that trend in India.

While several Indian States have announced extending the lockdown until April 30, there’s a bright side: citizens will be breathing much cleaner air. A recent analysis done by environmental organisation Climate Trends reveals that many cities in the country saw an improvement in air quality during the lockdown.

The analysis of air pollution levels shows that out of 101 cities, 35 recorded ‘good’ air quality on the fourth day of nationwide curfew. The analysis claimed these levels were unprecedented. The atmosphere wasn’t so clean since the Air Quality Index (AQI) was launched in 2014.

Moreover, New Delhi recorded its best ever AQI of 45 on March 26 which was the first ‘good’ air quality day in the capital since August 18 last year and only the third in more than three years.

Infographic of the effects of the lockdown in India.
Image: The Times of India

Analysis of data collected by the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) brought to the fore that the near-complete stoppage of daily traffic has led to drastic fall in the levels of particulate matter (PM) 2.5. The pollutant levels dropped by 62% in Delhi, 45% in Mumbai, 31% in Pune and 57% in Ahmedabad after April 6.

However, the biggest impact has been on the levels of nitrogen dioxide, a byproduct of the burning of coal and vehicular emissions. The high presence of this gas can increase the risk of respiratory ailments. According to the analysis, the NOx pollution [which includes nitrogen dioxide and other nitrogen oxides] has dropped by 62% in the week starting April 6. Other Indian cities have also experienced a dramatic reduction: 60% in Mumbai, 50% in Delhi and 32% Ahmedabad. The analysis further highlighted that in 38 monitoring stations in Delhi, NOx levels dropped drastically.

And tt’s not just the cities that are breathing more easily, but also industrial clusters in Gujarat like Vapi, Ankaleshwar and Vatva, which have also reported cleaner air during the lockdown. Vapi, ranked as the most polluted industrial cluster on the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI), recorded a 79.7% drop in sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels, one of the key emissions from coal-fired thermal power plants. “The air quality index in Vapi dropped to 100 from 313 on March 19,” the analysis added.

No need for a lockdown in India

Stating that a nationwide lockdown in India should not be needed to achieve improved air quality, the analysis suggested some mitigation measures for policy-makers. “Monitoring data proves that shut down of local sources from activities like transport, construction and industries have reduced PM2.5, PM10 and NOx levels, but background pollution levels remain even amidst the complete halt of the economy. The existing way of producing energy and economic activity have to transform towards sustainable and clean energy systems if India is to experience clean air in future,” it stated.

Further adding that Indian power grid system has been grossly underestimated, the analysis stated: “With the nine minutes of solidarity event of April 9, it is clear the grid system is flexible enough to handle a greater percentage of variable solar and wind energy. Efforts need to be made to implement learnings from this event.”

It added that vehicles on the road need to be zero emission vehicles for them to “stop being a health hazard”.

This story was written by Manka Behl for The Times of India. Read the original here.