Toxic air engulfs Delhi-NCR, worse yet to come

Western disturbance may reach North India on November 1 with dust from Pakistan and the Thar Desert and if wind speeds remain low, the dust will settle making Delhi very severely polluted

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Wednesday 31 October 2018
In 2016, Delhi had seen high levels of pollution around Diwali and the worst smog in 17 years. Credit: Getty Images

In the next few days PM10 levels are going to spike in Delhi and northern India, possibly creating a dust bowl like condition. A western disturbance that currently lies over Iran will move towards Pakistan and eventually reach North India on November 1, according to the latest forecast of the India Meteorological Department (IMD). This weather condition might kick up dust from Pakistan and the Thar desert and bring it into the north Indian plains. Here the dust might get mixed with the smoke emanating from the stubble burning being carried out in Punjab and Haryana and the other causes of air pollution that ruin Delhi’s air throughout the year. If the wind speeds in the region remain low, the dust will settle down over the city and its surrounding areas like a blanket making the pollution very severe. The western disturbance will also bring rainfall to Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir but this will not help improve the conditions in the rest of the region.

Such major meteorological phenomena are often ignored while predicting extreme conditions of pollution. But in the two previous instances they played an important role in making the situation worse. In the first week of November last year the north westerly wind brought in dust along with stubble burning smoke from North-West India and Pakistan. In 2016, Delhi had seen high levels of pollution around Diwali and the worst smog in 17 years. An anti-cyclonic system which had drastically reduced wind speeds in Delhi worsened air quality.

This is when the current situation is already bleak. Around midnight on October 30 pollution levels spiked all around Delhi. In Anand Vihar in East Delhi, PM10 levels shot up to as high as 1,519 microgram/cubic metre. This is 15 times the standard set by the Central Pollution Control Board. The PM10 levels had fluctuated the entire day and had settled at around 1,016 microgram/cubic metre at 10pm. Such levels of PM10 can cause severe lung and heart ailments, especially in children and the elderly. Over one lakh children died as a result of air pollution in 2016, according to the World Health Organization’s latest report.

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