Air quality turns ‘severe’ as Delhi decks up for Diwali
Doctors call it a health emergency as pollution may make people vulnerable to illnesses
New Delhi: A thick blanket of smog engulfed Delhi on Monday, with the national capital bearing the brunt of “severe” pollution even as it braces for Diwali.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) on Monday stood at 426, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR). This falls in the “severe” category and can potentially affect even the healthy people, besides seriously impacting those with existing illnesses.
The increase in moisture following the withdrawal of the western disturbances aggravated the situation, as it enhanced the pollution holding capacity of the air. Satellite pictures from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) of the US showed India’s north-western states under a thick haze.
The number of fire counts showed a decline over the last few days. However, the change in direction of surface winds towards the north-west (towards Delhi) heightened the pollution level in the city because of stubble burning in neighbouring states.
“There has been a significant intrusion of biomass (stubble)-generated pollution (33%) on Monday, which may decline rapidly now as upper winds are slow at 925hpa. Wind is still coming from the north-west region, which is unfavourable,” said the SAFAR forecast.
The situation in Faridabad was equally bad, with an AQI of 421, while that in Noida and Ghaziabad was worse with AQIs of 433 and 435, respectively. The air quality in Gurugram was recorded at 325, or “very poor”.
“When the air quality is ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’, it largely affects the vulnerable sections, including children, older people or those who have respiratory issues. However, ‘severe levels’ affect healthier people, too,” said Dr J.C. Suri, professor and former head, department of pulmonary medicine, Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi.
“If the intensity and exposure remains consistently high for even three days, it increases the chances of asthma and lung cancer. People are advised to stay indoors,” he said.
The concerns are compounded by a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report, which had raised alarm over Indian children being the most vulnerable to air pollution. More than 100,000 children below 15 years in India, of which 93% are under 5, die because of acute lower respiratory tract infections largely because of the polluted air inhaled by pregnant women, the report said.
Doctors have likened the situation to a health emergency, as consistent high levels of pollution could make people vulnerable to chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, including chronic bronchitis and asthma, apart from short-term impact, including eye-irritation, wheezing and trouble breathing.
Air quality is expected to improve on Tuesday, as no significant drop in temperatures is expected. The wind is also limping to a calm, according to the latest forecast.
However, with Diwali scheduled for Wednesday, a spike in pollution because of the bursting of firecrackers could offset the reduction in pollution levels because of favourable weather conditions.
The centre and state governments have launched a 10-day aggressive clean air campaign with a slew of measures, including ban on construction activities, brick-kilns hot-mix and burning of domestic and industrial waste.
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