Meteorologists have warned that Diwali is going to be 'critically polluted' in Delhi and children ought to stay indoors. According to the health advisory issued by SAFAR, a government-led pollution monitoring bureau, “Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low….” from the night of November 11 to the afternoon of November 12. Moreover the days after Diwali, the agency adds, will see an increase in smog and haze and possibly more noxious than Diwali day.
This analysis however carries the important caveat that the number of crackers burst this year remain the same as last year. Air quality in Delhi, while generally bad, is particularly so after the monsoons and the advent of winter.
"Cooler temperature and downward shift of the inversion layer means Delhi will breathe severe air for at least a day immediately after Diwali," Gufran Beig, a scientist with SAFAR told the Indian Express “Under these conditions, particles emitted from fireworks will sit on water droplets and cause them to multiply, resulting in more particles in suspended air .This process is called secondary particle formation and is likely to happen on November 12 and 13."
The scourge of Delhi is particulate matter which are tiny particles in the air that can penetrate the lungs and cause severe health hazards. The finer PM 2.5 particles are worse than PM 10--both references to the average diameter of these blobs--and can penetrate deeper into the respiratory tract, causing severe breathing problems. From a peak of 450 micrograms per cubic metre on the day after the festival last year, PM 10 levels this year are expected to go up to 956 micrograms per cubic metre on November 12 and according to SAFAR, PM 2.5 levels are expected to shoot up from last year’s 250 to 450 micrograms per cubic metre this year.
The tolerable PM 2.5 is around 60 micrograms per cubic metre while it is 100 micrograms per cubic metre for PM 10. Peak pollution hours will begin at about 1 am on November 11. This forecast is based on prevailing weather conditions, assuming that the number of crackers set off remain the same as last year.
But there's a shine to the dark clouds. On the back of public campaigns, international comparison to pollution in China and legal intervention, there is sharp fall in the popularity of crackers with several establishments saying they are doing much less business than previous years. Shopkeepers from Delhi's wholesale fire-cracker market of Sadar Bazar, which hosts over a 100 temporary cracker shops around Delhi, told the Delhi Times that they are experiencing the worst business phase in 40 years and sales have only been 20% of what it was last year. Figures compiled by the publication suggest that sales in Gurgaon have dipped 50% and 40% in Noida from last year.
Even the government has exhorted citizens to go easy. Delhi's Environment Minister Imran Hussai, launched a campaign "Say No to Fire Crackers" at a school here and asked children not to burst fire-crackers.
So if indeed, the muted sales at cracker shops translate into less crackers being lit there may be some respite for Delhi's lungs or else...
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