Air Pollution: Why India is at Higher Risk?

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India is leaving the rest of the countries behind in many sectors whether it is agriculture, technology economy, etc. Unfortunately, India has been successful in maintaining its place in the top ten countries in terms of air pollution as well. Yes, India is the dominating country in the list of the world’s topmost air polluted countries. Long-term exposure to outdoor and household air pollution has been contributing to many health problems in India. Different surveys say that millions of people are dying in India only because of the poor quality of air.

India is among the nations having the worst air quality. Life expectancy in India is also reducing because of air pollution.  According to some reports, the mortality rate has increased in last few years as outdoor air pollution is affecting infants the most. Air pollution has a direct link with the presence of PM (Particulate Matter) Particles in air. According to the State of Global Air (SoGA), PM2.5 and PM10 both are high in the air of India. This includes our National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT) and other NCR areas. In this article, we will discuss the seriousness of air pollution in India and its causes and effects. 

What is PM10 or PM2.5?

PM10 and PM2.5 are particles responsible for air pollution. It stands for Particulate Matter or Particle Pollution (PP). These are the small particles which are present in the air. The amount of these particles in the air defines the level of pollution of a particular region. These particles can be formed of hundreds of different chemical particles. These particles spread mostly due to dust, burning of waste and construction works, etc.

Diameter of PM2.5 particles is less than 2.5 micrometers. These particles are so tiny that without electron microscopic vision they are not visible. PM10 refers to the particles having diameter less than 10 micrometers. These are fine particles and some of PM10 particles can be seen with naked eyes in the form of dust, smoke, soot, etc.

These particles are responsible for health issues in humans. Particulate matter is made up of microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can easily be inhaled. Some particles are less than 10 micrometers in diameter and can get deep into your lungs. These particles can even mix with blood and pose a threat to health. Breathing polluted air causes different diseases in humans which can eventually be proven fatal. Therefore, the increasing level of these particles raises a big question on the health of humans.

Some facts on Air Pollution in India

According to last year’s report on most polluted air, India was at the 5th position in the world.  As per this year data too, India is leading the World’s most polluted countries list with Delhi and Ghaziabad being the cities with worst air quality. According to the SoGA 2020, India faces 1.67 million deaths every year because of air pollution (PM2.5). In a new comprehensive study of SoGA, it came to light that not only adults are getting affected by it but also more than 1,16,000 infants have been died in the last five years. In 2019, India and other South Asian countries were in the top ten countries which experienced the highest increase in PM2.5.

However, the government of India analyses that as compared to the year 2018, the air pollution has decreased in 2019. In year 2020, for the very first time in this season Air Quality Index (AQI) touches the risk line of air pollution on October 15. This increases the anxiety of the Indian Health Ministry. The Union Environment Minister acknowledges that the stubble burning was only 4 per cent on 15th October 2020, which indicates that this is not the main cause of air pollution. Now, the question arises that if stubble burning is not the main cause, then what is the real reason behind increasing air pollution?

Why Air pollution start increasing around the month of October?

After the outbreak of COVID-19, people were forced to stay at home. The lockdown period put a stop to most of the outdoor activities in India. Consequently, this reduction in outdoor activities also decreases the level of pollution in the country. This clearly defines that human activities greatly impact the pollution level. Now, after several months, people have started their routine work. As outdoor activities are increasing, the level of pollution has also started increasing. The Ministry of Environment Protection noticed that usually in October air pollution started to rise and reaches its maximum peak during winter every year. Specifically, Delhi and other NCR regions witness this rise of pollution during winter.

Do you ever notice why air pollution rises from October? What is the cause behind this? Here we try to explain some of the reasons which cause a rise in air pollution, especially around the month of October.

Wind direction:

The direction of the winds changes the seasons in our country. Similarly, it also affects the Indian states in many ways. The change in temperature, air pressure, and wind storms are the major causes of air pollution. October usually marks the withdrawal of monsoons in Northwest India. During monsoons, the northern part of India receives easterly winds. On the other hand, during winter and summer prevalent direction of the wind is westerly in India.

These winds come to Northern India from Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as from the state of Rajasthan. Westerly winds generally bring the hot and warm air in summers. In winters, these winds bring dust particles with them. The particles present in the westerly wind degrade the quality of air in India. In 2017, a storm originated in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait caused a drastic increase in Delhi’s air pollution.

Temperature Drop:

In summer season, air particles easily move to the outer surface in the cooler region. When the temperature decreases, then the inversion height also decreases. The inversion height is the average height, above which the dust particles move comfortably to the outer atmosphere. This decrease in the inversion height does not allow dust particles to move. So, the particles keep rising and this leads to rising in air pollution.

Speed of wind:

Speedy winds help to disperse the pollutant particles from the air and move them towards the outer atmosphere. But, in winter because of the dip in temperature the speed of wind gets slow. Thus, they cannot move the particles into the external atmosphere. This increases the number of dust particles in the lower environment and causes air pollution.

Fires:

The stubble fire and, slash and burn agriculture have been practiced in India for many years. In both of these activities burning is common. This burning contaminates the air present in the atmosphere. Similarly, forest fire is also a phenomenon that contributes to air pollution. The smoke originated from these fires increases the dust particles in the air. Hence, any type of fire is a dangerous factor for air pollution.

Human activities:

Human activities are the major cause of air pollution. The activities which we perform to complete our daily chores are rapidly increasing the air pollution. The use of vehicles and air conditioners (AC) has been increasing from the past few decades in India. The warm gases released from these things are harmful including the CFC (Chloro Fluoro Carbon) gas from the refrigerator. These harmful gases mix with the air in the atmosphere. Hence, air pollution increases rapidly in winter.

Harmful Effects of Air Pollution in India

Air pollution causes many health problems. But nowadays increasing level of PM2.5 in the air causes severe health issues. Over half of the infants’ deaths in India are linked with outdoor PM2.5. Reasons for the deaths of adults in remote areas are- use of solid fuels, for example- charcoal, wood for cooking, etc.

In urban cities, people are suffering from health issues like heart attack, diabetes, strokes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases, and neonatal diseases. These diseases are becoming so common that every third person is found affected with one of these diseases. PM2.5 and PM10 present in the air can also cause different lung problems and difficulty breathing. These particles (PM2.5 and PM10) are the main cause of reduced visibility (haze) in both rural and urban places.

What measures should be taken to avoid the harmful effects of Air Pollution?

We seriously need to think of initiatives and alternatives to reduce air pollution and effects. Government as well as citizens, it is a responsibility of everyone to take care of environment and to keep the air clean.

Steps taken by the government:

The Government of India has taken several measures in the past few years to reduce air pollution. Many state governments also have prepared and planning to build pedestrian and cycle-friendly networks. The government also invested in energy-efficient housing and power generation. It increases the number of public transport so that people start using them rather than using their private vehicles. A few years ago, the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) hired 500 buses for transportation in the local areas of Delhi to decrease the excessive use of private vehicles.

The government had taken several steps in reducing the emission of smoke from households that are using kerosene, biomass system etc. A few years back Delhi’s state government introduces odd-even policy for controlling air pollution caused by vehicles. Parking fees were also increased in some areas of Delhi so that people should start using public transport. Nowadays, a ‘pollution-free’ card is mandatory for all vehicles. This card is an indicator that the particular transport is not polluting the environment.

Steps needed to be taken by us:

One of the main causes of air pollution is human activities. So, this is our duty to reduce these causes so that we can live in a pollution-free environment. Only the government is not responsible for controlling air pollution. On an individual basis, we should also take some initiatives. The activity from which we are polluting the air most is the over use of vehicles. So, we all should start using public transport whenever it is possible. Cycling is the best exercise for human health. We should promote it. The businesspersons should establish their manufacturing units or industries far away from the main city.

We should apply the best of waste policy in our daily life and learn waste management. The most important one is to plant more trees. The Air Quality Index (AQI) tells us about every day’s air quality. So, to prevent you from getting infected from PM2.5 and PM10 pollutants, keep checking the AQI and take precautionary measures accordingly. Avoid outdoor activities when the PM level is high. We learned about pollution from books in theory, but we never applied it in our practical life. This is the high time to change our habits; otherwise, we will have to face the severe repercussions of it.

To check the air quality of your region click on the link below-

https://www.iqair.com/us/world-air-quality-ranking

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