Concerned as Delhiites were about the city's air quality being "very poor" today, the situation is unlikely to get any better in the near future -- the authorities have warned that pollution levels will only worsen over the coming week.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recorded the overall Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi at 301 -- more than four times the permissible limit -- on Sunday. However, it was a slight improvement over the previous day, when city residents breathed the most polluted air of the season with the AQI touching 324.
CPCB officials identified Anand Vihar, Mundaka, Narela, Dwarka Sector-8, Nehru Nagar and Rohini as the worst-affected areas, warning that it won't be long before the air quality levels there turn severe. An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered good, 51 and 100 satisfactory, 101 and 200 moderate, 201 and 300 poor, 301 and 400 very poor, and 401 and 500 severe.
Every November, air pollution in north India reaches levels unimaginable in most parts of the world -- forcing schools shut and filling hospital wards with wheezing patients. The cooler air traps car fumes, factory emissions and construction dust close to the ground, fomenting a toxic brew of harmful pollutants that regularly exceed 30 times the World Health Organisation safe limit.
This year, the scourge of pollution seems to have set in early.
With PM2.5 pollution touching a new high of 167, the Environment Protection Control Authority had held a meeting with officials from Delhi and surrounding states on Friday to discuss the pollution situation in the national capital. A member of the Supreme Court-appointed body said special attention would be paid to areas suffering from "poor" and "very poor" air quality.
PM2.5, particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, can be extremely hazardous to health.
According to CPCB officials, a number of factors -- including vehicular pollution, construction activities and meteorological factors such as the wind blowing from stubble-burning sites - are responsible for the deteriorating air quality. Satellite imagery provided by NASA shows countless fields already burning in Haryana and Punjab.
Farmers take up stubble-burning to prepare their fields for next season's crops without having to spend a lot of time and money on disposing of agricultural waste. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday tweeted that the city would turn into a "gas chamber" unless the centre and neighbouring states such as Punjab and Haryana take immediate steps to prevent farmers from setting their fields afire.
Incidentally, organisers of New Delhi's half-marathon race today used ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio waves to clear the air for runners participating in the event. They claimed that the experimental technique, which involves using UHF waves to dispel PM2.5 pollutants, managed to improve the air quality by at least 30 per cent.
(With inputs from PTI and Reuters)