Why Air Quality Matters Even More in India post COVID-19

As understanding of the novel coronavirus is increasing in the medical world, it is crucial to take into account and resolve India's air quality concerns

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By Himanshu Agarwal

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India is often lauded for being a land of diverse cultures with some of the world's best-known landmarks and colorful cities. However, most of these cities are often blanketed in a haze of air pollution. According to the World Economic Forum, six of the world's 10 most polluted cities are in India, with the capital city of New Delhi topping the list for the worst air pollution among any capital city. These cities contain the highest concentration of PM 2.5 particles. Air pollution has become a national emergency as it is killing 100,000 children below the age of five in India specifically, and is to be blamed for 12.5 per cent of all deaths within the country, in line with the fourth edition of State of India's surroundings (SoE) Report, 2019.

India's air quality has long been a major area of concern for environmentalists, the citizens, and the government. The poor air quality has proven to result in several health complications ranging from bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis, and other severe respiratory issues.

Currently, the COVID-19 outbreak across the world has wreaked havoc on livelihoods and globally has forced several countries to be placed under complete or partial lockdown. As more and more research around the world is being conducted to understand ways of controlling the pandemic, it is becoming more probable that coronavirus is airborne. The potency of an airborne disease can be exponential in a country where the air pollution level is already way above the acceptable mark. The important question, hence, is what will the scenario look like for India once the lockdown regulations have been relaxed with economic and social spaces opening up? Let us take a look.

Air pollution adding to woes

Although the lockdown owing to the pandemic appears to be a silver lining for air pollution due to significantly lesser vehicle emissions, we must consider the implications that the virus's changing nature poses to the world. Scientists across the world are now speculating the airborne nature of the virus, which further adds to the predicament. With increasing evidence that the coronavirus can spread through the air, air pollution is an area that must be given priority. India has been attempting to curb air pollution and improve its air quality by imposing strict regulations. Very recently, recognizing the potential airborne nature of the virus, the Indian Medical Association took a step forward and advised the income tax authorities to not run centralized air conditioners in their offices. In case the virus is proven to be airborne, it would call for immediate action and preparedness to handle the calamity.

Cause for concern

Another major concern is that while we are trying to boost the air quality and to make the air more breathable, we are only focussing on outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution is also a major cause for concern. With the government allowing essential services and IT companies to resume business operations with a minimal workforce, we must take into account the indoor air pollution. The airborne virus combined with indoor air pollution will impact our health and subsequently the economy right now and going forward.

As a nation with a population of over 1.3 billion, there are over 450 people per square kilometre. While the government has taken severe measures to curb the transmission of the virus and "flatten the curve', the sheer number of people in the country makes it a challenge to enforce stringent rules and ensure that they are followed. Besides this, being a tropical country, the onset of summer would mean that there will be an exponential increase in the usage of air conditioners in almost every household. The rising speculations about how air conditioners can be potential breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses adds to our woes.

Poor indoor air quality is also a source of worry for the citizens and has already been declared a national emergency in 2019. Combined with enclosed spaces and air conditioning, suppositions that there may be more respiratory issues owing to the bad air quality indoors are rising. For the long term success and recovery of the Indian population from the coronavirus, it will become important to safeguard citizens from the dangers of airborne infections, PM2.5, and harmful gases—all that severely impact the health and wellbeing of the citizens.

A comprehensive solution

Such situations call for a robust and permanent solution. While outdoor air pollution is a much larger problem and all the steps being taken will take time to show results, indoor air pollution is in our hands. "Air sanitization' is an important concept that we must consider implementing to safeguard ourselves and make the air safer. It is important that both private and government organizations implement air and surface sanitization before getting back to business as usual once lockdown regulations are eased.

There is technology available today that can sanitize the air in any kind and size of indoor space instantly. The "Air Sanitization' solutions available today are built on advanced technologies that can eliminate all kinds of viruses, bacteria, and harmful gases from air-conditioned spaces. These technologies can also clear the air of harmful particles. The use of these technologies will make the place safe for people to spend their time in, be it a restaurant, hotel, fitness centre, office space, stadiums, or hospitals.

While the pandemic is sure to pass in due time, improving air quality and reducing air pollution and the particulate matter should be of utmost priority. Working together and making use of novel technologies to remove airborne pollutants will be an important factor in determining India's recovery and long term safety post the COVID-19 crisis.

Himanshu Agarwal

Founder and CEO, Magneto CleanTech.

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