NEW DELHI: India’s national capital New Delhi has witnessed the world’s most hazardous air quality, exacerbated by the convergence of seasonal fires for farmland clearance and emissions from vehicles, construction activities, and coal-fired power plants.
Delhi’s Alarming Air Quality: Delhi, India’s capital, has recently recorded the world’s most toxic air. The city’s air quality index (AQI) surged to 346, the highest among 110 global cities monitored by Swiss company IQ Air. In comparison, Mumbai’s AQI reached 177.
Seasonal Fires and Multiple Sources: The deterioration in air quality is attributed to a combination of factors. Seasonal fires, primarily used to clear farmland, contribute to the problem. This joins the ongoing pollution from vehicles, construction activities, and coal-fired power plants in the region.
Weather Hinders Pollution Dispersion: The current bout of poor air quality is exacerbated by weather conditions. A drop in temperatures and sluggish wind speeds have impeded the dispersal of pollutants. Anju Goel, an air quality research fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi, highlighted this aspect.
Dangerous Particulate Matter Levels: Delhi also registered alarmingly high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at 296 micrograms per cubic meter of air. This is nearly 20 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit of 15 micrograms.
Fine particulate pollution is linked to severe health impacts, including a reduction in life expectancy. A study by the University of Chicago found that it can reduce an average Indian’s life expectancy by 5.3 years.
Ineffectiveness of Pollution Control Policies: Despite various policies introduced by central and state governments in India to combat air pollution, the problem persists and even worsens. While agricultural fires in the areas surrounding Delhi have decreased over the past five years, other sources of pollution, such as construction activities and inefficient cooking stoves, have been on the rise due to population growth.
Power Plant Pollution Controls Lagging: Power plants in the vicinity of Delhi were required to install pollution control measures. However, poor enforcement has resulted in most of these plants failing to comply. Without improved regulation and compliance, the situation is likely to deteriorate further, as noted by Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
The severe air pollution crisis in Delhi, compounded by seasonal fires and a combination of pollution sources, underscores the urgent need for comprehensive measures and stricter enforcement to address this ongoing public health issue.