New Delhi/Lucknow- In contrast to various regions across the country, the northern part of India now experiences a distinct pollution season. This period typically occurs before the onset of winter and often coincides with the autumn season. Unfortunately, as the hazardous smog envelops the capital, it is the ordinary citizens who bear the brunt of its detrimental effects.
Saurabh, who runs a grocery shop in Delhi’s Govindpuri Extension, says, “It has become difficult to breathe in this suffocating air. The government is advising to stay at home, but I have a grocery shop. I cannot stay at home as I need to feed my family.” Vikas, who runs a tea shop near Delhi's Sukhdev Vihar metro station, says, “It is difficult to do anything due to pollution. But our livelihood depends on this. A fewer number of people are coming out because of which I am getting fewer customers. There was a time when a lot of students from the nearby Jamia Millia Islamia University used to come to my shop, but that has drastically reduced.”
Meanwhile, in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, a 65-year-old individual, who had visited the doctor to obtain medication, had his blood pressure checked. The doctor informed him that his blood pressure had risen, attributing it to the changing weather and pollution. The individual also experienced a mild phlegm issue, and his wife faced a similar concern.
Experiencing breathlessness, Jyoti sought treatment at KGMU's respiratory department to alleviate her discomfort. Previously, Jyoti had been hospitalized for an extended period due to a bout of COVID-19, during which she required oxygen support. Now, her respiratory issues have resurfaced due to the ongoing pollution problem.
The transition between summer and winter in India has rendered the air in the country's capital, Delhi, and various states severely polluted. Emissions from vehicles and factories have given rise to a hazy layer in the atmosphere, significantly impacting Delhi. Visibility in Delhi has been limited to just 500 meters. According to the Meteorological Department, this situation is expected to persist until Monday.
As per the Decision Support System of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, two major contributors to pollution on Saturday were crop residue burning (stubble) and vehicular emissions. Stubble burning accounted for the highest percentage this season at 35.42%, while vehicle emissions stood at 11.55%. An official noted that the primary cause of pollution was due to these factors. Dr. Kuldeep Srivastava, a senior scientist at the Meteorological Department, mentioned the presence of light morning fog and decreased humidity in the afternoon. Weather expert Navdeep suggests that similar conditions may continue until 10th November.
The Central Pollution Control Board has developed an Air Quality Index to evaluate the deteriorating climate conditions. This index serves as the global standard for determining whether the weather is conducive or harmful to human life. In the case of Delhi, this has become an annual occurrence, with the residents of Delhi-NCR grappling with this issue each year. Despite efforts to mitigate the situation, all measures taken thus far have proven insufficient. The impact of the weather conditions began to manifest on 1st November, and by 2nd November, the air quality across the entire NCR region has been progressively deteriorating by the hour.
• Up to 50: Good
• 51-100: Satisfactory
• 101-200: Moderate
• 201-300: Bad
• 301-400: Very bad
• 401-500: Severe
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 7 million people across the world succumb to air pollution-related causes annually. In India, this number exceeds 1.6 million. Another research study reveals that poor air quality has a direct impact on life expectancy, reducing it by an average of 2.2 years globally. However, in the Delhi-UP region, life expectancy is decreasing by more than 9.5 years. Disturbingly, in India in 2019, a staggering 116,000 newborns lost their lives due to air quality issues, never getting the chance to experience even a month of life. On average, an Indian exposed to air pollution may see their life expectancy reduced by 5.3 years.
In response to the critical pollution situation in Delhi, Lieutenant Governor Vinay Kumar Saxena convened an emergency meeting that lasted until Friday evening. He called upon both Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai to Raj Niwas for this meeting. Expressing deep concern about the continuously rising Air Quality Index (AQI), the LG characterized the situation as alarming.
As a result, it was decided that urgent measures needed to be taken to address the issue. All government departments and agencies have been instructed to actively work toward reducing pollution levels in line with their primary functions, and the public has been advised to stay indoors. A notable improvement in Delhi's AQI was observed at 4 pm on Friday. During this period, air quality had improved from a reading of 468 to 413 by 6 am on Saturday. However, the concentration of PM 2.5 particles remains approximately 80 times higher than the healthy limits recommended by the World Health Organization.
PM2.5 refers to tiny particles that, when inhaled, can deeply penetrate the respiratory system, leading to respiratory issues. For the fifth consecutive day on Saturday, a thick, harmful layer of smog has been visible in the city, raising significant concerns among medical professionals. They note that air pollution is causing a surge in respiratory and eye-related problems, particularly among children and the elderly. In many locations within the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR), the concentration of PM2.5 was found to be seven to eight times higher than the safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic meter. Notably, this concentration is 80 to 100 times greater than the healthy limit of five micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
As reported in the media, a study conducted by the 'Energy Policy Institute' at the 'University of Chicago' in August revealed that the life expectancy of individuals in Delhi is being shortened by approximately 12 years due to air pollution. The situation has reached an extremely severe level, leading many to suspend their outdoor activities, such as morning walks and sports. This has raised significant concerns among parents, as health experts point out that children, who breathe faster, are exposed to higher levels of pollutants. Every winter, the air quality in Delhi-NCR deteriorates to hazardous levels due to adverse weather conditions, vehicle emissions, crop residue burning, fireworks, and other local sources of pollution.
Individuals with pre-existing respiratory issues, heart conditions, and inflammatory ailments may be susceptible to having these conditions exacerbated by pollution. The detrimental impacts of air pollution are evident in both physical and mental health, with people exposed to pollution being at a heightened risk of experiencing stress and, in severe cases, depression. According to Ravindra Nath Kaushal, a former medical officer at IIM, poor air quality leads to elevated blood pressure. Additionally, patients suffering from conditions such as bronchitis, heart disease, skin disorders, hair loss, and smog-related damage may experience symptoms like coughing, breathing difficulties, eye, nose, ear, throat irritation, lung infections, and elevated blood pressure. Individuals with conditions like brain strokes and asthma face an increased risk of experiencing attacks due to air pollution.
Dr. Ravindra Mohan Kaushal, a retired medical officer from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM Lucknow), warns that an Air Quality Index (AQI) of this nature poses a significant risk to individuals who have previously contracted COVID-19. This risk can be identified through lung X-rays, where indications of bilateral hilars and prominent infection may be observed, which could potentially be perilous for their health.