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Government geared to tackle air pollution challenge with S&T intervention

As newspapers highlight the bleak state of air pollution in the country, especially in the metro cities, the government is all geared up to tackle the burgeoning problem on war footing. A high tech Air Quality Early Warning System for forecasting extreme air pollution developed by scientists of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, India Meteorological Department and National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) under Ministry of Earth Sciences was unveiled recently. The Ministry of Environment and Forests organized the clean air week from November 1 to November 5 in order to follow up on the air pollution warnings, where fifty two teams ensured compliance to air pollution standards and taking quick action to ensure that air quality levels should not go into the severe category.

Technology for air pollution alerts

Several new technologies have been adopted by the government to tackle the alarming problem of air pollution in the country. Advanced technology for real-time pollution monitoring and effective alerts, action on the ground on the basis of such alerts and emission inventories to identify sources of pollution can go a long way to check the alarming ways in which this problem is becoming a national crisis especially every winter. The Air Quality Early Warning System developed by scientists of MoES institutions with the technical support from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) can predict extreme air pollution events and give alerts to take necessary steps as per Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) of the Government of India.

The warning system consists of real-time observations of air quality over Delhi region and details about natural aerosols like dust (from dust storms) and particulate matter using different satellite data sets.  Predictions of air pollutants from two different air quality prediction systems based on state-of-the-art atmospheric chemistry transport models and warning Messages and Alerts and Bulletins. The prediction part of the system consists of two modeling frameworks, one is based on the NCAR atmospheric chemistry transport model and the second one is based on the Finnish Meteorological Institute model. Both the models have data integration facility, which can incorporate data from satellites on dust aerosols, particulate matter from stubble burning and other air pollutants like SO2 and NO2. The new early warning system is meant to issue alerts on large-scale air pollution events which may occur over the Delhi region.

In order to predict air quality at the block level, the government is using the fastest and first Multi Petaflop supercomputer “PRATYUSH” High Power Computing (HPC) system unveiled at Pune based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), developed by scientists of MoES institutions. It also supports research and development activities in MoES and other academic institutions working on various problems related to environment.

Inventories, dissemination and ground action

Scientists at IITM Pune have carried out a mega emission inventory campaign called SAFAR where around 140 students participated and mapped all possible local sources which contribute to Delhi air pollution. The mission of launching mega emission inventory campaign is to identify and mark locations within the national capital which pollute the air. The product with high-resolution emission inventory of all eight important air pollutants (like PM2.5, PM10, NOx, CO, SO2, BC, OC and VOCs) has been prepared for Delhi and border areas and the inventory used ground level activity data about emissions from as many as 23 different sources of pollution. The emission inventory suggests that there is a substantial increase in emissions from transport and industrial sector, while the contributions from residences have shown a substantial decline.

A new website has been developed for archiving all the observational and prediction products which will be accessed by the officials of Environmental Pollution Authority (EPA) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for taking necessary steps depending upon the requirements.

Air pollution control saves children

Drastic and all round steps to control air pollution is a major necessity to protect the health of the future generation. In its drive against the increasing population, the government has in its mind several reports of disastrous consequences of air pollution in children.

On 30th October 2018 in the first global conference on air pollution and health in Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that among all age groups children are extremely susceptible to polluted air. Around 93% of children under the age of 15, breathe polluted air and suffer from neurodevelopment deficit, respiratory infection problems. The impact is higher among the children as concentrations of air pollutants are higher in the ground level which directly impacts on children’s health. Low- and middle-income countries like India are striving to meet the air quality guidelines recommended by WHO. Children are highly vulnerable to air pollution which leads to childhood cancers, asthma, poor lung function, pneumonia and other types of acute lower respiratory infection. Smaller lungs of children due to air pollution mean weaker work out capacity and higher vulnerability to respiratory problems and diseases. Another reason that children health is at high risk of air pollution is that their bodies and brains are still developing, they breathe more rapidly than adults and subsequently absorb more toxic pollutant from the air which affects them more.

Particulate matter (PM) in air: With rapid industrialization and development, governments around the world are also facing a rising task of cleaning its air, particularly from tiny particulate matter. The elevated level of PM2.5 results from motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, stubble burning and some industrial processes which makes the air hazy and reduces visibility. These microscopic pollutants in the air can penetrate deep inside the respiratory and circulatory system, damaging the lungs, heart and brain respectively.

Control measures: Several control measures are already in action to tackle the problem of air pollution. The National Air Quality Monitoring Programme executed by Central Pollution Control Board is continuously monitoring the status and trends of ambient air quality in around 300 cities twenty-six (29) states and four (6) Union Territories of the country.  MoES is trying to include more data of pollutants to improve the accuracy of predictions with the technical support from International Institutes. As the government gears up with technical and administrative strategies and solutions for controlling air pollution, the country is soon likely to find a way to save the lives of future generations.