Fighting air pollution effectively & sustainably

Delhi’s air quality remains ‘poor’; likely to deteriorate further’ announced a recent news headline. The City’s air quality index was then 245, while having reached a level of 400 plus some days ago. Air quality index of upto 50 is considered ‘good’ while 400 upwards is ‘severe’. The severity of the air pollution in the national capital is evident from these numbers. Sadly, other cities are not much better. Twenty-one of the world’s 30 cities with the worst air pollution were in India, according to data compiled in IQAir Air Visual’s 2019 World Air Quality Report; six were in the top ten.
Around this time of the year, cities especially those in north India come under the grip of very poor air quality putting to grave risk millions of their citizens. Reasons for the poor air include vehicular emissions, industrial pollution, wood burning for cooking, construction activity, and stubble burning in some areas at this time of the year. The growing mountains of solid waste dumping sites around our cities add quite
a bit too.
It is quite clear that anthropogenic activities have a substantial impact on the quality of air we breathe. Look at the situation during the recent COVID-18 induced lockdowns. According to the “Impact of Lockdown on the Ambient Air Quality”
report by CPCB, PM 2.5 reduced by 24 per cent during the pre-lockdown phase
(March 1-21) and further reduced by almost 50 per cent during the lockdown phases (phase-I March 25 – April 19 and phase-II April 20 to May 3) as compared to levels during 2019. Needless to say, air quality went steadily downhill once lockdown was relaxed in phases. The improved air quality during the lockdown came with high economic costs and therefore is not the way to go. However this experience could enable scientists to quantify the extent of impact various human activities have on air quality. We must find ways to decouple economic activity/growth from poor air quality. In other words economic growth need not be at the cost of environmental degradation. Technological innovations and restoring natural ecosystems can enable us to achieve irreversible, sustained, and sustainable long term improvement in air quality.
Rapid movement towards electric vehicles and increased blending of auto fuels to address vehicular pollution, accelerated shift to renewable energy and use of gas in place of coal fired thermal power plants, and innovations such as vertical forest towers, smog-eating building facades, cloud seeding, anti-smog guns and water sprinkling all have their roles in cleaning up the air. Yet we must not neglect the crucial role of our natural ecosystems in our quest for a clean-air future. Growing more trees, conserving forest cover, rejuvenating our rivers and water bodies, preserving flora and fauna, restoring wetlands, reducing waste (reusing and recycling) will all serve a wide range of objectives including preventing floods, water security, good sanitation, and of course providing us clean air to breathe. This could be the more sustainable path.
This issue of Urban Update deals with the subject of air quality covering various aspects. We trust you will find the issue engaging.

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