Indian capital’s tryst with hazardous air is back

New Delhi, Oct 13 (efe-epa).- Air quality in the Indian capital of New Delhi has hit the hazardous levels, falling into the “very poor” category on Tuesday after months of respite due to the strict nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

The significant deterioration in air quality was due to the crop waste burning by farmers in Delhi and its neighboring states that sent a massive cloud of smoke billowing across the northern part of India.

A thick haze covered Delhi’s skyline as the average air quality index (AQI) was 304 in the morning, which falls in the “very poor” category, according to the Central Pollution Control Board.

“The wind speed was supposed to pick up due to a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal, but that did not happen,” SAFAR, India’s main environment monitoring agency, said in its daily bulletin.

The quality improved to the “unhealthy” level and stood at 170 in the evening, according to the government’s Air Quality Early Warning System.

An AQI value of 50 or below represents good air quality, while a value over 300 represents hazardous air quality.

The level of PM2.5 – finer particles that can center deep into the lungs and bloodstream, causing deadly diseases – was above the level considered safe, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research.

SAFAR said it was due to low wind speeds that have let the deadly pollutants hang in the air.

“The AQI is likely to be in the very poor to a poor category for the next two days,” SAFAR said.

The worsening air quality has sparked health warnings, particularly for members of sensitive groups who may face “more serious health effects.”

The capital recorded a 24-hour average AQI of 261 on Monday, the worst since February. It was 216 and 221 respectively on Sunday and Saturday.

New Delhi, which holds an unenviable distinction of being the most polluted capital city in the world, and its satellite towns had enjoyed a long-spell of cleaner air during the months of lockdown from Mar. 25.

According to the European Space Agency, air pollution in New Delhi and Mumbai, also among the world’s worst-contaminated cities, had come down remarkably during the anti-coronavirus lockdown.

But the air started getting more toxic as soon as factories in Delhi and its surrounding areas resumed operations along with other economic activities.

The reprieve from the bad air quality finally ended in late September when farmers began burning straw stubble that remains after harvest, a major source of pollution during the winter months in northern India.

Air pollution typically worsens in Delhi and other Indian cities during the winter months from October to December.

However, this year, the country faces a double whammy of pollution and coronavirus crisis which has so far infected more than seven million people in India and claimed nearly 110,000 lives.

As air pollution levels rise, hospitals across the country get overwhelmed by patients with respiratory complications.

Naveed Nazir, a pulmonologist, said the situation could get worse, and those prone to respiratory complications needed to be extra careful.

“Air pollution can affect our immune response. A mild Covid-19 infection can get serious if a patient is exposed to polluted air,” Nazir told EFE.

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