Changes show air pollution is not just a winter problem
The unusually high concentration of particulate matter in the last few days in North India clearly shows that air pollution is not a seasonal problem anymore. As the climate gets warmer and frequency of rains reduces, such spurts in coarse particles making breathing difficult will become a new normal, unless governments wake up to the alarm.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest ass- essment says that planet can bear only up to a 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsi- us increase in temperature from the pre-industrial era levels. The world had already wa- rmed by 0.9 degrees Celsius till 2015 and at the present pace of emissions, climate scientists say, the IPCC ma- rk will get breached latest by 2050.
The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology has said that both the periodicity and duration of dry spells in the country were rising as the total rainfall events in a year had fallen even though the average rainfall in a year has not changed much, a direct consequence of climate change. The annual average rainfall has remained the same because the frequency of heavy downpours (for example, the June 2013 flash floods in Uttaraexercise, khand) has increased in the past two decades. During dry spells, the earth gets heated up and moisture in the atmosphere dips, creating depressions that pull winds from the oceans. As there is less rain and the green barriers in and around cities have been destroyed, the winds lift dust and local emissions, causing a spurt in air pollution. Such events have been higher in 2018 -- a year of freaky weather that witnessed three killer thunderstorms in May before this dust-laden westerly -- because the average rainfall since November 2017 has been about 60% below normal.
The impact could have been substantially reduced had governments — the states and the Centre — made air pollution mitigation a round-the-clock and not restricted it to winter months, when the pollution is high. As a result, most of North India is covered under a veil of du- st haze with air pollution worse than that in the winter months. Blaming only weather conditions would be a colossal mistake. It is a manmade catastrophe that impacts health of one and all, as half of the air pollution spurt is caused by local dust in the absence of proper roadside landscaping and emissions from industry and vehicles. In the coming years, we can prevent such events by ensuring that every city implements the Centre’s dust-management plan, there are restrictions on registration of new fuel-guzzling vehicles, and green dust barriers are developed around cities.
The hills are obscured by a pall of haze in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.