Effect of COVID-19 lockdown on air pollution

By: Riya Singh

A conventional story of a crow and crane, the lesson we learnt ‘Tit for Tat’. In other words, the way a person will treat you, they himself will be treated in the same manner.

A similar situation was created in December 2019 in Wuhan, China called the COVID-19 pandemic. Humans have consistently destroyed the different components of the ecosystem and nature for more than two decades. Now, nature has started to retaliate in the form of different catastrophes like floods, drought, fire, volcanoes, landslides, and more recently the coronavirus outbreak

Environmentalists and ecologists believe that the exploitation of wild animals that was underway in China has led to the creation of this unique virus

Through this, many countries were forced to adopt lockdown policies in order to prevent people from moving out and stop the spread of the disease.

Impact of COVID-19 on air pollution

Let’s take a look at the positive impact that COVID-19 has had on the environment, especially on the air we breathe. For instance, the reports citing decreasing levels of GHGs (Green House Gas) within a short period of the lockdown, which reduced the air pollution levels substantially.

Positive Impact of COVID-19 on air pollution
Aerosol levels seen changing over northern India.
(Image: © Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory/Terra/MODIS/Pawan Gupta/USRA)

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, a time frame where people were busy managing their daily lifestyle, only stopping to relax during the weekends. Unfortunately, the air around us was toxic and dangerous to breathe because of the amount of pollutants and toxins in it.

The greenhouse gases resulting in the earth faced rising temperatures in turn lead to the melting of glaciers and rising sea levels, threatening biodiversity and the survival of humanity. Environmental degradation, a trending term, was used to put a label on the depletion of resources like air, water, soil and land etc.

During COVID-19, the nationwide lockdown was implemented that led to a reduction in traveling for business and for leisure, whether it was is from their own cars or any public transport and industries were shut down completely.

This led to a significant drop in air pollution as there was a marked decline in emissions of particulate matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5 ), carbon, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, etc.

According to data from an analysis of the CPCB Air Quality Index data, the lockdown prompted by the Covid-19 outbreak from March 25 to June 8 helped to significantly reduce air pollution levels in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore.

The four cities achieved 95% of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) target set by the Centre, as per the analysis carried out jointly by CarbonCopy and Respirer Living Sciences.

Further, according to Sushanta Mahto of Department of Geography, the University of Gour Banga, West Bengal and his group worked on air quality data of seven pollutant parameters for 34 monitoring stations spread over the megacity and employed National Air Quality Index (NAQI) to show the spatial pattern of air quality in pre and during-lockdown phases of New Delhi

The results of COVID-19 lockdown indicated reduction of PM 10 and PM 2.5 by about half in comparison to pre lockdown, while NO 2 and CO also showed a considerable decline. In the transportation and industrial location air quality improvement was close to 60%.

Can we maintain better air quality levels in a sustainable fashion post-Corona?

As the relaxation of lockdown restrictions is underway, people are resuming their lives, construction work is restarting, factories are reopening, all of which is resulting in an increase in air pollution levels once again.

But every crisis is an opportunity and the good news is that people can adopt new mobility habits in their lives.

People should minimize the usage of public or private transport which will result in a reduction in air pollution. Utilizing electric transport powered by a clean source of energy and expanding this both for public and private sectors will eventually reduce India’s emissions.

Switching to cycling or walking are some of the best changes an individual can make to reduce air pollution.

Our habits need to change if we are to future-proof against viral outbreaks and help maintain improved air quality.

(The views expressed in the article are the author’s own. Let Me Breathe neither endorses nor is responsible for them.) 

Riya Singh

Riya Singh

Know More

Rainforest Day 2021: Highlighting the Evergreen Canopies

How to be a sustainable traveler for the planet

Intersectional Environmentalism: Did we get an inclusive lens on climate justice?