New Delhi: India’s capital, which will host the Commonwealth Games in October, isn’t just getting a fresh coat of paint, several overpasses, hotels and roads, and assorted sports infrastructure towards this.
It is also getting its own air quality forecasting system.
And so, New Delhi will become the first city in the country to be able to provide, 48 hours in advance, a pollution forecast, much like a weather forecast.
Hazy picture: A March photo of construction at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi. The main aim of air quality forecasting for Delhi, known as the country’s asthma capital, should be public health. Manan Vatsyayana / AFP
French firms Aria Technologies SA and Leosphere SA, which created a similar forecasting system for the Beijing Olympics (2008), are helping New Delhi create its pollution forecast. India doesn’t have an official pollution forecasting system.
“Our goal in Beijing was to put together a pollution index for the Games. Paris, which has a similar system, uses the information to control pollutants in the near future. This (the pollution forecasting system in New Delhi) is a first for South Asia,” said Sarath Guttikunda, deputy programme manager, Aria.
The two French firms are working with India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to create the system. Leosphere manufactures hardware and software for the laser-based monitoring systems and Aria Technologies develops and distributes air quality modelling systems.
The New Delhi project is sponsored by the French government. Officials at its embassy in New Delhi declined comment, saying they were not authorized to speak to the media.
“After the Games, CPCB will take it forward. We will be training the board so that they will be able to continue the forecasting,” added Guttikunda.
CPCB has the mandate for collecting and releasing data on air pollution. It does provide real-time data on the concentration of various pollutants in New Delhi. However, this is point-in-time data, not a forecast.
The new initiative will help it do better, said an official at CPCB. “The focus is on better understanding of pollution for national, regional and urban areas. This will be continued after the Games also. Delhi is just the pilot and we hope we can replicate it for other cities,” said Prashant Gargava, environmental engineer and in charge for computer division, CPCB. “Advance warning and information on ambient air quality can help citizens in planning outdoor activities. It can be used for planning air quality management systems, understanding sources of pollution and how to manage them.”
However, it wasn’t clear whether New Delhi would emulate Beijing’s aggressive environmental management.
In Beijing, where the forecasts were available five days in advance, officials “used it as a policy tool, through which they planned their short-term pollution control methods. They had a clear target, which was to meet air quality standards during games,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhary, associate director, Centre for Science and Environment, an environmental activist organization.
“They ordered three million cars off the roads and shut down industries to meet the standard,” she said, adding that New Delhi should have a similar plan.
Guttikunda, too, would like to see CPCB or other agencies use the data to good effect. “Our objective is to persuade the agencies to make an informed decision on pollution control rather than an ad hoc one.”
The forecasting system that is being put in place will use Lidar (light detection and ranging) technology. The process involves a laser beam which is released and captured, with the before-after difference being converted into concentrations of various pollutants.
The system will also factor in regional data because it is needed to make an accurate forecast, said Guttikunda. For instance, data from Rajasthan can help predict dust storms in New Delhi.
Guttikunda said the main aim of air quality forecasting should be public health. “For instance, Delhi is known as the asthma capital of the country. Air pollution, especially particulate, is linked to respiratory disorders and advisories could be based on such advance warning system for better public health.”
Several cities in other parts of the world do issue such health advisories.