Sunday, 15 Dec 2019

Little Reason to Celebrate

Around a month ago, Delhi had torrential rains for 4 days continuously. It was all over the news that Delhi air had finally become breathable. With an air quality index (AQI) of 133, Delhi was rejoicing at being able to breathe “moderately polluted” air or air that is “unhealthy for sensitive groups”. These are the two different ways that the Air Quality Index is defined, depending on which part of the world you live in.

https://www.ndtv.com/delhi-news/delhi-air-quality-delhis-air-quality-at-years-best-after-heavy-rain-this-morning-1981406

The Air Quality Index is a number that is used by the government to easily communicate to the public on how polluted the air is. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in India has the following definition for AQI:

AQI Category AQI
Good 0 – 50
Satisfactory 51 – 100
Moderately polluted 101 – 200
Poor 201 – 300
Very poor 301 – 400
Severe 401 - 500

However, the interesting dichotomy of this can be seen when one looks at the AQI definition in the U.S.

AQI Category AQI
Good 0 – 50
Moderate 51 – 100
Unhealthy for sensitive groups 101 – 150
Unhealthy 151 – 200
Very unhealthy 201 – 300
Hazardous 301 – 500

These AQI numbers are in sync with the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for safe limits of pollutants. So, what is “moderately polluted” in India is, in reality, “unhealthy for sensitive groups” in other parts of the world. This gives us little reason to celebrate.

However, considering the very high levels of pollution in Delhi over the last several months (AQI > 300), an AQI of 133 and less could be a reason to celebrate IF the cause for the decrease was due to a policy change or rule implementation that would ensure sustained lower levels of pollution. Delhi was fortunate enough to receive heavy rainfall and make the air more breathable – why is CPCB celebrating?

I am happy for the Delhi-ites that they get to breathe clean air, albeit only for a few days. But it is time for our government to wake up and address this problem in a more sustainable way. I hope there will be a day when the increased awareness will result in serious policy changes so everybody can breathe clean air for life!

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