Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

India’s Air Pollution Plummets in COVID-19 Lockdown

Climate
India’s Air Pollution Plummets in COVID-19 Lockdown
Deserted view of NH24 near Akshardham Temple on day nine of the 21-day nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus on April 2, 2020 in New Delhi, India. Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India is home to 21 of the world's 30 most polluted cities, but recently air pollution levels have started to drop dramatically as the second-most populated nation endures the second week of a 21-day lockdown amidst coronavirus fears, according to The Weather Channel.


While the complete shutdown of India's economy was designed to stop the spread of COVID-19, it is having an ancillary health benefit of clearing the air that millions of people were choking on, according to CNN. As vehicles stay off the road, construction is put on hold, and factories stop production, the levels of microscopic particulate matter, or PM 2.5, start to drop.

"It is true that pollution levels are going down and will continue to be lower as a result of lockdown," Pawan Gupta, senior scientist at the Earth Sciences of Universities Space Research Association at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, told Earther in an email.

Recent heavy rains in the north and west of the country have also helped the country's pollution levels, Gupta added. "Rain is a very effective aerosol removal process from the atmosphere and can bring down particulate matter values," he said.

Since the March 25 lockdown that forced 1.3 billion Indians to stay home, air quality in New Delhi, usually the worst in the world, has dropped to "satisfactory" levels. The lockdown order shut down offices, schools, movie theaters, malls, markets and "non-essential" service providers. All modes of public transport such as metro trains, buses, inter-state trains and domestic and international flights for civilian movement have also been stopped, according to Quartz.

The effect of the lockdown has been dramatic. In New Delhi, where flights have been diverted because smog shrouded the airport, the air pollution levels have dropped 71 percent in just one week. On March 20, the air had an unhealthy 91 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5. On March 27, just a couple days into the lockdown, that level fell to 26 micrograms per cubic meter. Anything above 25 is considered unsafe, according to the World Health Organization, as CNN reported.

"I have not seen such blue skies in Delhi for the past 10 years," said Jyoti Pande Lavakare, the co-founder of Indian environmental organization Care for Air, and author of upcoming book Breathing Here is Injurious To Your Health, to CNN. "It is a silver lining in terms of this awful crisis that we can step outside and breathe."

Data from the Central Pollution Control Board of India's Environment Ministry also showed a 71 percent decrease in nitrogen dioxide levels. Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore have also recorded a drop in these air pollutants, according to CNN. In Mumbai, the financial capital, air quality levels in March 2019 averaged 153 on the Air Quality Index, which ranks as unhealthy to breathe, according to Reuters. New Delhi averaged 161 last March.

The tops of skyscrapers were visible and some residents told Reuters they could spot more stars than usual.

"The air quality is likely to slip into 'good' category soon. It is due to reduced vehicular traffic and rise in temperature," said Kuldeep Srivastava, who heads the regional meteorological center at the Indian Meteorological Department, to The Weather Channel.

However, it is important to remember that this is a temporary reprieve that will return if industry and vehicular traffic return once the lockdown is over.

As for its effect on the climate crisis, The Weather Channel reported that the World Meteorological Organization issued a statement that read: "Efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic have reduced economic activity and led to localized improvements in the air quality. But it is too early to assess the implications for concentrations of greenhouse gases, which are responsible for long-term climate change."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A resident works in the vegetable garden of the Favela Nova Esperanca – a "green favela" which reuses everything and is subject to the ethics of permaculture – in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Feb. 14, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP via Getty Images

Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.

Read More Show Less
Once the virus escapes into the air inside a building, you have two options: bring in fresh air from outside or remove the virus from the air inside the building. Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

By Shelly Miller

The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.

Read More Show Less
California Senator Kamala Harris endorses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a historic announcement Tuesday when he named California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

A northern mockingbird on June 24, 2016. Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0

Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).

Read More Show Less
A spiny dogfish shark swims in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A "vessel of opportunity" skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. NOAA / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun

After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less