Air quality 'very poor' in Indian capital after months of clear skies

Smog returns to Delhi: Air quality returns to ‘very poor’ in India’s capital after months of clearer conditions stemming from strict coronavirus lockdown

  • A drop in wind and the burning of crop waste has brought on a sharp deterioration in New Delhi’s air quality
  • A smoggy haze has reduced visibility as lower winds speeds allowed deadly pollutants to hang in the air 
  • During lockdown Delhi’s millions of residents were treated to blue skies and dramatically improved air quality
  • The city hit headlines in late 2019 for having the world’s highest levels of air pollution, forcing schools to shut

Thick smog has returned to New Delhi bringing an end to months of cleaner air stemming from a strict coronavirus lockdown in India’s capital.

Pictures show a haze over the city of more than 21 million with visibility reduced significantly as the Air Quality Index (AQI) rose past 300 on a scale of 500, indicating ‘very poor’ conditions that pose a risk of respiratory problems.

The images are in stark contrast to the blue skies that were seen over the polluted capital earlier in the year when India was plunged into lockdown in the fight against Covid-19. 

The drop came on Tuesday as India recorded the season’s worst day for air quality, prompted by wind dying down and the burning of crop waste in fields sending smoke billowing across the north of the country.  

A smoggy haze settled over New Delhi, reducing visibility significantly, as the Air Quality Index (AQI) rose past 300 on a scale of 500, indicating ‘very poor’ conditions that pose a risk of respiratory problems, according to the federal pollution control board’s guidance

Lower wind speeds let deadly pollutants like PM2.5 particles hang in the air. PM2.5, particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter, can be carried deep into the lungs, causing deadly diseases, including cancer and cardiac problems

New Delhi made headlines in 2019 for recording the highest levels of air pollution anywhere in the world. The situation was so bad that flights were cancelled and schools were forced to close

A photo from March shows a clear sky above a normally jam-packed New Delhi highway. The lockdown caused massive reductions in traffic, which contributed to the metropolis’ dramatically improved air quality

‘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. 

Lower wind speeds let deadly pollutants like PM2.5 particles hang in the air.

PM2.5, particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter, can be carried deep into the lungs, causing deadly diseases, including cancer and cardiac problems.

‘The AQI is likely to be in the very poor to a poor category for the next two days,’ SAFAR said, as the burning of crop waste, which accounts for about a quarter of air pollution in winter months, picked up.  

Using SAFAR’s categories, the 0-50 range is ‘good’, 51-100 is ‘satisfactory’, 101-200 is ‘moderate’, 201-300 is ‘poor’, 301-400 is ‘very poor’ and above 400 is ‘severe’. 

Even on the outskirts of the city the visibility remained poor with government officials warning last week that a drop in air quality could aggravate the dangers of Covid-19

Every winter, a thick blanket of smog settles over northern India as a combination of factors including the burning of stubble in fields, industrial emissions and vehicle exhaust brings a spike in pollution. Pictured above: A farmer burns crop stubble in a farm on the outskirts of Amritsar in November 2019

Delhi’s air quality was classed as ‘very poor’ for the first time this season on Tuesday as a thick smog blanketed the capital and nearby cities

Tower blocks were hard to make out through the haze on Tuesday, which came after months of clearer skies in Delhi

Every winter, a thick blanket of smog settles over northern India as a combination of factors including the burning of stubble in fields, industrial emissions and vehicle exhaust brings a spike in pollution.

Since October 1, Delhi’s average AQI was more than 36% higher than the figures for the same period a year ago, according to data compiled by Reuters news agency. 

Up until September, New Delhi and its satellite cities’ millions of residents had enjoyed some respite from the region’s notoriously bad air pollution as a welcome side effect of a strict lockdown brought in to curb the spread of coronavirus.  

Last year, the capital and its satellite cities accounted for half of the dozen most-polluted cities worldwide.

Just days after lockdown was introduced on March 25, people in the capital awoke to clear blue skies.

At the time, the AQI indicated levels below 50, or ‘good’, prompting calls for authorities to ensure pollution levels stay down in future. 

Just days after lockdown was introduced in March, people in the capital awoke to clear blue skies. Some took to social media to share the images of unusually clear and bright skies

Back in March, the AQI indicated levels below 50, or ‘good’, prompting calls for authorities to ensure pollution levels stay down in future. While some still travelled, like the men pictured above, many vehicles were off the road during the lockdown

Delhi’s skies were still clear and blue as late as October 5th, when the government launched an anti-pollution campaign in an attempt to curb air pollution levels ahead of winter, warning that filthy air could make the coronavirus pandemic even more dangerous. Pictured above: An anti-smog gun at the Central Park in New Delhi

More than 90 cities in India recorded minimal levels of air pollution during the same period. 

New Delhi made headlines in 2019 for recording the highest levels of air pollution anywhere in the world.

The city’s air pollution soared to hazardous levels in November last year, with a toxic grey smog obscuring the skyline and its monuments.

The pollution was so bad, local authorities declared a public health emergency, shutting down flights and schools.  

Air pollution can cause respiratory illnesses and, India’s government warned, worsen the effects of coronavirus. India has recorded at least 7,175,880 cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began earlier this year, according to the country’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

Home to some 1.3 billion people, India is notorious for the poor air quality in its cities. Last year, the capital New Dehli and its satellite cities accounted for half of the dozen most-polluted cities worldwide

The thick fog that descended on Delhi on Tuesday comes just over a week after the government announced new plans to tackle the capital’s chronic air pollution 

Breathing the air in Delhi during that time for just one day was equivalent to smoking ‘at least 25 cigarettes,’ according to Time.

On October 5th, the Indian government launched an anti-pollution campaign in an attempt to curb air pollution levels ahead of winter, warning that filthy air could make the coronavirus pandemic even more dangerous.

India, home to some 1.3 billion people, has recorded at least 7,175,880 cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began earlier this year, according to the country’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. 

Days later, the instalment of a ‘smog tower’ in Connaught Place – one of Delhi’s main financial and commercial hubs – was announced.

The tower, due to be completed in 10 months, according to the Mint news site, will suck air from the sky to release filtered air near ground level.

It was announced alongside a programme to plant more trees as a means to combat air pollution.  

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