Real Time Mapping is Helping Delhi Clear Up its Air
Government of NCT of Delhi is cracking the air crisis through real-time mapping of air quality
Sometime around the winter of 2015, a persistent grey smog came and perched itself on the skies of Delhi. Ever since, the national capital’s pollution has become a subject of serious interest among the political classes and the media alike. It was a slow descent into this scenario. Foryears, we ignored vehicle fumes, black smoke spiralling out of factory zones and environmental laws with abysmal compliance.We even ignored the impact of climate change on the agrarian season, which led to the shrinking of period between sowing and harvest seasons and left thousands of farmers with no choice but to burn aside stubble. Just as the causes moved slowly to culminate into a crisis, the solution is coming together slowly as well.
As we see it, there are three broad benefits to this kind of aggressive real-time mapping. One, that is it offers real-time data to departments so that they are able to offer a far more targeted response as opposed to the previous studies which aggregated data at the level of an entire season. Hour-to-hour monitoring informs departments about the changing dispositions of air.
Second, the data identifies the source of the pollution and deconstructs the problem, making it easier to quell pollution at source. For instance, a traffic signal from where a large amount of vehicular pollution emanates or an unauthorised colony reporting big bio mass emissions. So, the concerned agencies, be it the municipality, the Transport Department, DPCC or the pollution control committee etc can devise a targeted response plan. This decentralises and localises the problem that seems otherwise colossal.
Third, the data monitoring system offers a three-day forecast for the concentration of PM 2.5 and what sources are likely to contribute to it. The emission inventory feeds into forecasting by providing an estimate of the emissions from various pollution sources in a geographical zone.
This enables pre-emptive action towards reducing pollution. Until now, the only forecast available for Delhi came from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune and threat data was a daily forecast and was bereft of source apportionment.
One major learning from our work is that it is really critical for state governments and non-attainment cities in India to create source apportionment projects which the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) already mandates. In terms of aspiration, cities that aren’t doing this as yet should first attempt to create a static or seasonal source apportionment study and then attempt to upgrade to real-time source apportionment for better insights.
The report titled ‘World Air Quality Report 2020’ by the Swiss organisation IQAir had stated that 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities were in India. Besides Delhi, the 21 other Indian cities in the list were Ghaziabad, Bulandshahar, Bisrakh Jalalpur, Noida, Greater Noida, Kanpur, Lucknow, Meerut, Agra and Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh; Bhiwadi in Rajasthan; Faridabad, Jind, Hisar, Fatehabad, Bandhwari, Gurugram, Yamuna Nagar, Rohtak and Dharuhera in Haryana; and Muzaffarpur in Bihar. Previously, in May 2018, a World Health Organisation had ranked the 20 most polluted cities in the world and 14 of them were in India. It is quite clear that the smoke isn’t merely Delhi’s problem and that more and more state governments must come forward and adopt tech and chase data to resolve the air crisis that looms large.
Given the degree of technicality and capacity building needed, for delivery of quality source apportionment results in timely manner, state governments will need to rely extensively on external support - both technical (similar to what IIT Kanpur did for Delhi) and programme management (similar to what we did for Delhi).
Air pollution changes form, colour, shape, and deceives the sharpest of minds and governments. However, we are convinced and optimistic that througnnovation, imagination and collaboration, state governments in India can clear up the skies.