According to a world health organization survey of 1650 cities from around the world, the air quality of Delhi was found to be the worst of any major city .This decline in air quality in the capital city has a hugely negative impact on human health and the environment, not just at the source of pollution but also in the areas and districts in the vicinity of it. It is estimated that air pollution in India claims around 2 million lives every year. In addition to it being the 5th largest killer in India, the country also has the world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases and asthma, according to the WHO.
What is causing this decline in Delhi’s air quality?
The deterioration of Delhi’s air quality can be attributed to a number of factors such as an absence of adequate monitoring and evaluation by local authorities, overpopulation, excessive motor vehicle emissions ,stubble burning as well as the use of LPG by households. The drift emissions from the wet cooling tower plants are also a major source of particulate matter in the area. Up until its permanent shutdown in 2018, The Badarpur thermal power station ,a coal-fired power plant built in 1973, was a major source of air pollution in Delhi. Despite producing less than 8% of the city’s electric power at the time, it produced 80 to 90% of the particulate matter pollution from the electric power sector .
Stubble burning in agricultural fields
Every year, with the onset of winter in Delhi, the pollution in the capital city reaches a new high on the air index quality (AQI). A major reason behind this is the stubble burning by agricultural farmers in the nearby cities of Punjab and Haryana .Stubble burning is the process of burning the harvest residue from the fields so as to prepare the land for the next agricultural cycle. More than 50,000 farms in Punjab and 6000 in the city of Haryana were burned in the year 2020. With the unavailability of labor due to the current ongoing pandemic, the farm fires have only risen in number this year.
What are the negative repercussions of this growing air pollution?
Air pollution has major pernicious effects on the health and living conditions of people .Children are more vulnerable to the its detrimental effects for they breathe at a higher rate of air per kilogram of their body weight to compensate for their growth and constant development. Children also spend more time outside and are more prone to its effects. More than 2.2 million children in Delhi have irreversible lung damage. In addition to this , research shows that pollution can lower children’s immune system and increase the risks of cancer, epilepsy, diabetes and even adult-onset diseases like multiple sclerosis. In adults, poor air quality can reduce lung capacity and is is a major risk factor for a plethora of pollution related diseases. including respiratory infections, heart disease, COPD, stroke and lung cancer. The health effects caused by air pollution may include difficulty in breathing, wheezing, coughing, asthma and the worsening of existing respiratory and cardiac conditions. Smog (smoke +fog) is another major ramification of the ongoing air pollution crisis in Delhi, causing not just extreme hindrance in visibility but also major adverse effects on health such as breathlessness, chest constriction, irritation in eyes etc.
The government needs a comprehensive proactive plan to tackle air pollution in our major cities by ensuring the proper monitoring and evaluation of their air quality . Emissions from industrial plants and vehicles must be regulated and less harmful alternatives, involving newer ,advanced technologies must be utilized and enforced in every sector. The stubble burning in agricultural fields should be also replaced with newer technologies and machines .The government should play the part of an enabler in the process by spreading awareness about the pros and cons of the multiple options and alternatives available so as to eliminate confusion and ease the adoption of these new technologies .