Air quality improves due to lock down amid COVID-19 pandemic: Experts


ISLAMABAD, APR 13 (DNA) – Experts at an online policy dialogue agreed that air quality has improved across the world due to lockdowns amid COVID-19 outbreak and stressed the need for regional cooperation to maintain air quality in future by sharing data.

The online Policy Dialogue titled “COVID-19 and Air Quality”  was organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Monday.

Prime Minister’s Advisor on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, has said the world has observed improvement in air quality because it has linkages with industrial and transport emissions, which means willingness of people can change the air quality.

“We have started shifting to high quality fuel and now our focus is more on areas occupied with air pollution,” he said, adding that the government is working on installing 10 new modern stations for monitoring air quality in big cities.

He said consequences of lockdown on daily wagers may be very harsh, so the Ministry of Climate Change is considering engaging daily wagers with proper protective measures in tree plantations drives to make environment and people better simultaneously.

To a question, he said air pollution is a regional issue, so regional collaboration is the need of hour to overcome the issue and it’s time to talk about data gathering.

He said electric vehicles policy is in the offing and soon the country will start manufacturing from two wheelers and move to 3 and 4 wheelers.

SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri said if we can close down our activities due to fear of pandemic, then we can also reduce our activities voluntarily post COVID-19 to make our air clean and breathable.

Discussing the damage done to environment due to increasing pollution, he said one positive aspect of COVID-19 is that nature is healing due to closure of factories and transport.

“We all know that climate change is no longer a natural phenomenon, but it is occurring due to human activities, which must be run under certain SOPs for which national policies need to be devised,” he maintained. 

Prof. Gabriel Filippelli, Director, Center for Urban Health, Indiana University, USA said the pandemic has caused some substantial changes in human behaviour, like staying at home with minimal transport, and shutting down of factories.

In Indiana, he said, 90 per cent reduction in vehicle traffic has been observed, which improved the air quality. Similarly, in China particularly Wuhan, the shutdown of transport and factories improved the air quality, he maintained.

Citing comparisons from recent studies done in Indianapolis, he said the problem with air quality as a metric is it varies over time because of human emissions, atmospheric conditions, etc., so studies show 38 per cent reduction in these emissions.  He said we have direct link to our own environment, so our action can improve local health.

Ms Bharati Chaturvedi, Founder Director of Chintan, India said people having long-term exposure to bad air quality are more vulnerable to COVID-19. She said the recent figures from Europe show that they too have unclean air.

“April is the season of minor crop burning, but we are not presently looking at the issue due to lockdown and unavailability of labour. Immediate measures are needed in this regard”

Stressing the need for change in ecosystem of cities, she expressed surprise that despite the working of thermal power plants, the air quality has improved. In rural India, she said, mixture of clean fuel and traditional fuel (most pollutant) in household use is the key reason behind high rate of deaths. She further said we should share data regionally and look forward to launch campaigns and initiatives through joint platform.

Ms Rushati Das from Climate Action Network South Asia, said India is in lockdown since March 23 and within a week, the air quality has become better, especially in the North of the country.

The air quality will again get worse, she warned, if a proper policy to keep it under control was not adopted. she said. She also stressed the need for cooperation across borders, to maintain good air quality.

Mr James Tyson, Economic Officer for Health, US Embassy in Pakistan, said once the lockdown is lifted, we shall again go back to the same era of pollution. He called upon the ministry’s concerned to consider possible policy option to maintain environment.

Mr Kanchan Mani Dixit, from Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Nepal said all transportation except emergency vehicles has been stopped.  He said the air quality has been recorded in between 160-178, which is making environment unhealthy to breathe. In Nepal, he said, 11 per cent pollution is generated from big factories while only three per cent from small industry.

Maryam Shabbir from SDPI said today the air quality index in Lahore and Karachi is 75, and 67 respectively, which is considered moderate. She said it depicts that air quality is getting better in such difficult situation as factories are closed and transport is minimal causing less pollution.