Air pollution in India, before and after
Credit: Awar Nazir / Sajjad Hussain / AFP via Getty Images
Environment Health

Coronavirus Lockdown Has Drastically Reduced India’s Air Pollution

India imposed a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus on March 25th and the effect it has had on the country’s air pollution has been dramatic.

New Delhi, the nation’s capital saw PM 2.5 drop by 71% in just one week, the grey covered skies have parted and been replaced with clear blue skies and clouds. Indian environmental organization ‘Care for Air’ co-founder Jyoti Pande Lavakare said:

I have not seen such blue skies in Delhi for the past 10 years. It is a silver lining in terms of this awful crisis that we can step outside and breathe.

The city has also seen Nitrogen dioxide (NO2 ) levels drop 71% from 52 per cubic meter to 15. NO2 is largely caused by fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gas, or diesel are burned at high temperatures.

It’s difficult to celebrate the reduction in air pollution given it is coming at the cost of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, but this definitely shows the human effect on the planet as Lavakare pointed out to CNN:

Obviously, this is not the most ideal way to bring down air pollution, but it does prove that air pollution is manmade. It gives a lot of encouragement and hope that we can bring pollution down.

Air pollution is a global problem as we know and according to the IQAir AirVisual’s 2019 World Air Quality Report, India has 21 out of the top 30 of the world’s most polluted cities. This has led Jyoti Pande Lavakare to write a book titled “Breathing Here is Injurious To Your Health.”

Respiratory diseases in India are among the highest rate in the world, which is easy to see when having 21 of the most heavily air-polluted cities. The levels of respiratory disease are so high Lavakare says that “even among young children, they have asthma, the nebulizer has become a normal thing to have in the house for families who can afford them.”

Clear blue skies over India
Clear blue skies over India. Credit: Rajat Gupta

Of course, we already know that elderly people or people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to becoming severely ill from the COVID-19 infection.

Sunil Dahiya is an analyst based in New Delhi for the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) who said:

Pollution is going down, but we cannot let the suffering of so many human beings be the way to clean the air. We can only use the outbreak of coronavirus as a learning lesson for us.
When we come out of the outbreak, it will be interesting to see if we invest money in the cleaner future. (Do) we ramp up the old fossil fuel-based intensive industries, or we go towards more sustainable options.

Lavakare, along with many of us here on the planet, hopes the government in India will take notice of what is happening as a result of using less fossil fuels, she concludes by saying:

Right now, we have a priority, we need to stop this big crisis. But when things are under better control … we need to move towards renewable energy faster. It would be really sad (if) we make the same mistake again, using coal and non-renewable energy.

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