Air Quality Early Warning System (AQEWS) Enhanced for Delhi

The Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Science and Technology, Dr. Jitendra Singh, launched the Air Quality Early Warning System (AQEWS) for Delhi. AQEWS and Decision Support System (DSS) were developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM). The Air Quality Early Warning System is designed to predict extreme air pollution events and better air-quality management in the Delhi-NCR region. IITM has also created a dedicated website to provide information regarding emissions from Delhi and adjoining districts to air quality. One of the system’s unique features includes providing information on the contribution of biomass-burning activities in the adjoining states.

Air Pollution in Delhi

During winter, pollution in Delhi increases on a large scale. Even though there are good policies to mitigate pollution, there is no proper implementation. The lack of implementation of pollution prevention policies is one of the primary reasons for increasing air pollution. There are no adequate surveillance systems, and therefore, violations are not checked. Minor offences can contribute to the large scale spreading of pollutants, like garbage burning, leaf burning, dust control, which can be seen all across the capital and surrounding areas.

Dust pollution is one of the significant problems faced by Delhi every year. Small streets are covered in dust, and mechanical sweeping is limited only to the main roads. Since sewage is left open on the streets, it mixes with the loose dust and turns into sludge. This sludge is never removed from the streets and narrow lanes. Similarly, construction waste and the dust produced from it are also significant problems.

The use of dirty fuel and coal for industrial purposes in the municipal areas of Delhi is another factor that contributes to air pollution and the reduction of air quality. The burning of garbage is a major cause of pollution. Pollutants like PM2.5 are spread rapidly due to garbage burning. Frequent burning is also seen at the landfill sites of Delhi, like Ghazipur and Bhalswa. Stubble burning also adds nearly 15% to seasonal pollution. In rural areas where biomass burning is common during the winter months, this also adds to air pollution.

Waste segregation to separate non-biodegradable and biodegradable wastes is not implemented correctly in Delhi. Composting biodegradable waste is a viable alternative to burning it. Even dust pollution can be controlled by implementing composting.

The air in Delhi is hazardous to its people, especially to children and elderly and the sick. The presence of PM2.5 and PM1, which exceeds the Government and World Health Organization limits, is the main reason for Delhi’s high rate of cardiovascular damage. The toxic air also contains high quantities of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide. This increases the chance of heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure and worsens the respiratory complications from COVID-19.

Air Quality Early Warning System

IITM first developed the Air Quality Early Warning System in 2018-19 to alert people about possible worse air-quality events about 7-10 days in advance. However, the policymakers required more accurate information on the potential sources responsible for the degraded air quality during a forecast severe air-quality event. This information would help monitor and control the emission sources and thus help manage air quality. Therefore, IITM has launched AQEWS with a ‘Decision Support System’ (DSS) for air-quality management in Delhi.

The AQEWS system uses data of stubble burning incidents from the last 15 years for predicting the date and place of the subsequent burning. This data is then coordinated with wind speed for predicting air pollution levels for the next 72 hours. AQEWS also forecasts the level of pollutants such as particulate matter (PM) 2.5, PM10, and dust from other sources. Early warning of pollution helps in providing data and time to the authorities for responding to it effectively.

The Decision Support System (DSS) provides quantitative information about the contribution of emissions from Delhi and the surrounding 19 districts to the air quality in Delhi. It also includes information on the contribution of emissions from 8 different emission sectors in Delhi and biomass-burning activities in the neighbouring states to the degradation of air quality of Delhi. Hence, this information highlights the important emission sources responsible for the degraded air quality in Delhi and suggest possible solutions to increase the air quality to the authorities.

The enhancement of AQEWS and DSS is necessary because the air quality index of Delhi, subsequent which is generally Moderate (101-200) level between January to September, drastically deteriorates to Very Poor (301-400), Severe (401-500) or Hazardous (500+) levels in three months between October to December due to winter pollution.