INDIA – Delhi’s air quality dipped to severe for the first time this season as stubble burning, which is one of the leading causes of toxic air, continued unabated in North India, primarily in Punjab. ‘Severe’ is the highest of India’s six-part air pollution classification system.
The classification is based on what is known as the Air Quality Index — a number used to communicate the level of pollution in the air. The AQI essentially tells you the level of pollution in the air in a given city on a given day.
And, the monitoring system qualifies the air from good to severe:
Good: AQI of 0-100; minimal impact on health
Satisfactory: AQI of 0-100; minor breathing discomfort to sensitive people
Moderate: AQI of 101-200; breathing discomfort to people with asthma, lung and heart diseases
Poor: AQI of 201-300; breathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure
Very poor: AQI of 301-400; respiratory illness on prolonged exposure
Severe: AQI of 401-500; affects healthy people and seriously impacts those with existing diseases
Today, Delhi’s AQI crossed the 400-mark for the first time this season after several days of being ‘very poor’.
This even as stubble burning, one of the leading causes behind the air pollution seen every year over Delhi and the larger national capital region (NCR), which includes Noida, Greater Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Faridabad, continues unabated in Punjab and parts of Haryana.
This is evident from satellite images offered by the US’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa). This is how North India looked yesterday, October 29.
The dirty air in Delhi — an annual affair blamed on government inaction, vehicular and industrial pollution, stubble burning and construction activity — has already led to the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) kicking in.
GRAP is a plan prepared by the Supreme Court-mandated Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority and it lists various pollution-combating measures that must be undertaken. The measures become more stringent as the air pollution in Delhi rises.
Some of the most stringent measures include:
A three or four-fold hike in parking fees
Increase in frequency of Metro and bus services
Increase in frequency of sprinkling of water on road
A ban on entry of trucks (except those carrying essential goods) into Delhi-NCR
A temporary ban on all construction activity in Delhi-NCR
Meanwhile, the government-run System of Air Quality Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) issued a health advisory for citizens of Delhi and NCR.
The advisory made a crucial observation: Normal dust masks are not effective enough to keep you safe from the high levels of pollution. You must opt for N-95 or P-100 respirators for all outdoor activity.
The other recommendations include:
If a room has windows, close them
If the air conditioner provides a fresh air intake option, then choose it
Avoid burning anything such as wood, candle or even an incense stick
Carry out frequent wet mopping inside your home
THINGS WILL GET WORSE
SAFAR, which apart from issuing health advisories, also predicts how the air quality will be in the upcoming days has said that things are about to get even worse.
A SAFAR official was quoted by news agency PTI as saying that pollution is likely to increase even faster now due to moisture and heavy air.
“Lot of moisture is already getting introduced in Delhi sky as an early signature,” the official was quoted as saying. The officials also said that the moisture level in Delhi’s air will increase further in the coming weeks, which will aggravate air pollution.
The only factor that can prevent things from worsening is an increase in surface wind speeds that would help dispel the pollutants accumulated in the air over Delhi-NCR.