Choking City: The Horror of Pollution

The national capital of India, Delhi, once again finds itself in the suffocating grip of severe air pollution. As reported by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on Wednesday,  the city’s average air quality index (AQI) breached the alarming threshold of 400, catapulting it into the “severe” category and triggering concerns about the health of its millions of residents.

This grim reality, reflected in the choking smog covering the city, isn't new. Delhi has long grappled with the dubious distinction of being one of the world's most polluted metropolises. Yet, each spike in pollution levels serves as a stark reminder of the invisible enemy silently wreaking havoc on the city's very fabric.

The culprit? Microscopic particles known as PM2.5, measuring a mere 2.5 micrometres across, dominate the scene. At 87 µg/m³, these insidious invaders are a staggering 4.35 times higher than the safe limit set by the World Health Organization. Their tiny size allows them to bypass our defences, infiltrating deep into our lungs and bloodstream, triggering respiratory issues, heart disease, and even cancer.

PM10, another pollutant of concern, lingers at 146 µg/m³, exceeding the safe limit by nearly 50%. These larger particles may not penetrate as deeply, but their presence further irritates airways and exacerbates existing respiratory conditions. While ozone and NO2 remain within safe limits for now, they can fluctuate, adding to the unpredictable nature of Delhi's air quality.

Air Quality Index (AQI) 355 as of 25/01/2024

Hourly Forecast Verification of PM2.5 as of 25/01/2024

Hourly Forecast Verification of PM10 as of 25/01/2024 

The air quality index, a numerical scale ranging from 0 to 500, paints a clear picture of the severity. Values between 0 and 100 are considered "good," 100-200 as "moderate," 200-300 as "poor," 300-400 as "very poor," and anything above 400 falls into the dreaded "severe" category. Delhi's Wednesday AQI of 400+ speaks volumes about the critical state of its air and the potential health risks it poses to its residents.

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The Central Government finds itself in a precarious state in response to this crisis. While tempted to immediately activate Stage 3 of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), a set of restrictions designed to combat air pollution during severe episodes, it has opted for a measured approach. The rationale? Forecasts suggest a potential improvement in the air quality within the next few days.

This decision, though seemingly prudent, sparks a debate. Do we wait and hope for the pollution to miraculously disappear, or do we proactively implement stricter measures to prevent further health complications? The sub-committee of the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) seems to be betting on the former, choosing to closely monitor the situation before invoking Stage 3 restrictions.

However, this wait-and-see approach comes with its own set of risks. The pollutants don't magically vanish during observation periods. They continue to linger in the air, silently infiltrating lungs and triggering respiratory problems, heart diseases, and even cancer, particularly among vulnerable groups like children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Adding to the complexity is the uncertainty surrounding the reliability of weather forecasts. Predicting air quality with 100% accuracy remains a challenge, and relying solely on these projections may inadvertently delay the implementation of crucial measures, potentially exposing residents to prolonged periods of severe air quality.

Furthermore, as the situation evolves, the potential reinstatement of GRAP restrictions throws light on the limitations of such reactive measures. While necessary in the interim, these actions often appear like band-aid solutions to a chronic wound.

Addressing the root causes of air pollution, such as vehicular emissions, industrial pollution, and agricultural burning, requires a more holistic and transformative approach.

Delhi's air pollution crisis demands immediate and sustained action. Waiting for favourable weather conditions while hoping for spontaneous improvement is simply not enough. Embracing stringent regulations, investing in cleaner technologies, promoting public transportation, and fostering sustainable living practices are the cornerstones of a long-term solution.

Ultimately, Delhi's fight for clean air isn't one-sided. It's a collective responsibility, a collective endeavour. Every resident, from policymakers to commuters to industrialists, has a role to play. Choosing greener fuels, minimising waste, opting for carpooling, and advocating for stricter pollution control measures are all steps in the right direction.

As Delhi's skies remain hidden in a hazy veil, the city finds itself at a crossroads. One path leads to continued dependence on temporary fixes and the agonising wait for favourable weather. The other leads to a future where clean air isn't a privilege a few enjoy but a fundamental right accessible to all. The choice is clear: Will Delhi risk its residents' health or embrace a comprehensive and decisive approach to reclaiming the right to breathe?

Let us know what you think in the comment section below. If you have an opinion to share, send it over to larra@globalindiannetwork.com.

Komala Rudra

Komala Rudra is a devoted mother and author who explores children's behavior and nutrition, offering valuable insights and practical guidance for parents and caregivers. Her writings aim to nurture healthy habits and stronger connections between parents and their little ones.

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