Today: Jun 25, 2024

Air pollution reaches dangerous levels during winters in Kashmir

5 mins read

Winter usually begins in the last week of November in Kashmir and ends in February. During this time, the valley receives ample snow, rain, and sleet, in addition to increased incidences of frost, fog, and mercury dipping below zero. For quite a few days, even air traffic is suspended and the national highway closed. This is the norm that follows. However, the ground situation, which might not seem as important to many, is quite concerning. Climate experts have data that prove that the air quality of Kashmir deteriorates drastically during winter, leading to health concerns for its inhabitants. A 2018 study that examined the contribution of chronic respiratory diseases to deaths and disabilities in India, found J&K to be among the top four states with a growing prevalence of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. According to the study, around 4,750 people in 1,00,000 suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, with air pollution being the leading risk factor.
Biomass burning, vehicular combustion, brick kilns, and cement factories emit pollutants that contribute to the high levels of particulate matter (PM 2.5, PM 10) in the air.
Co-relation of air quality and lung diseases in Kashmir
Smog is a familiar sight in Kashmir during winter now. The cold atmospheric conditions have the potential to trigger symptoms of respiratory tract infections. However, during summers as well, the quality of air has a significant role to play. Long-term exposure to respiratory irritants in the air is linked to an increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases.
COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that blocks the airway and makes it difficult to breathe. Typically, it is caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter. According to WHO, it is the third leading cause of death worldwide.
Jammu and Kashmir has a high prevalence of lung diseases and is among the top four states in India with a growing prevalence of COPD, according to a 2018 study. Dr. Parvaiz Ahmad Koul, Director of the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), while speaking on the sidelines of the launch of the Doctors for Clean Air and Climate Action, J&K chapter informed that around 10,000 people die every year in UT due to diseases attributable to air pollution. Dr. Koul gave a detailed presentation on air pollution and lung diseases. “Pollution is affecting every organ of our body. Srinagar city has the highest incidence of lung cancer in the country, and J&K has a high prevalence of lung diseases, and air pollution is a major risk factor for the ailments,” he said.
The Chest Diseases Hospital in Srinagar also witnesses patients from pollution-prone areas like Khrew and Khonmoh villages of Pulwama, and Budgam districts of Kashmir frequently. Quarrying, cement factories, brick kilns, and other activities carried out in these areas add to the number of patients suffering from occupational lung diseases.
The air quality of Kashmir with green meadows, high mountains, and forests is perceived to be pure and untainted. Yet studies have found that on certain days, pollution in the valley can be worse than that in a metropolitan city. It is important to note that Srinagar city was declared the 11th most polluted in the world, in 2016, by WHO.
Now there’s another reason to stay indoors during winter in Kashmir
A study jointly conducted by a team of scientists from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and the University of Kashmir in 2018, titled Winter Burst of Pristine Kashmir Valley Air, has indicated that pollution in Srinagar hits dangerous levels during winter months. The air was found to carry five times more particulate matter (PM2.5) than the permissible limit.
The study indicated that emissions due to domestic coal usage account for 84% (1246.5 tons/year) of the total annual emission, followed by vehicular combustion which is 220.5 tons/year. The least emissions are from fuel wood burning to account for around 8.06 tons/year. The elevated levels of emissions from biomass and coal burning, fossil fuel combustion, and suspension of road dust increase particulate pollution in winter.
Because of an enormous increase in the land under horticulture, the pruning of trees takes place in October and November at a large scale. People burn foliage to make charcoal. The use of traditional fire pots (kangris) ignited by charcoal and coal-based heaters (bukharis ) adds to the overall pollution as well. The high cost of LPG and a shortage of electricity in Kashmir, on the other hand, forces residents to continue the use of conventional sources of heat during winter. Researchers have, thus, observed a high PM2.5 and PM10 load during autumn and winter in the valley.
According to NASA earth observatory, Kashmir is enclosed by high mountain ranges on all sides. These ranges have the ability to trap air and create airflow patterns that concentrate smoke and other airborne pollutants close to the valley bottom. It results in outbreaks of haze. This situation usually develops more in winter when a layer of cool air at the surface is overlain by a layer of warmer air – a phenomenon known as temperature inversion in meteorology.
The combined effect of cold weather conditions and biomass and coal burning, fossil fuel combustion, vehicular emissions, etc., lead to the accumulation of particulate matter (PM) in the lower atmospheric levels. With a temperature inversion in place, the thick layer of warm air acts as a cap and prevents pollutants from dispersing. Thus, their concentration increases in winter.
Vehicular emissions increasing in Srinagar – Reports the JKPCC
The number of vehicles registered in Jammu and Kashmir is more than 1.6 million, which has considerably gone up from 6,68,445 in 2008. These figures are according to the J&K traffic department. Officials at the Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Committee (JKPCC) have blamed the unplanned vehicular system for a noticeable impact on the quality of air. A considerable rise in the number of public and private vehicles operating in the city has resulted in a high concentration of pollutants in the air.
A 2018 preliminary study on the air quality of Srinagar revealed a higher concentration of NO2 in the city center – Lal Chowk – a commercial area of the city. The study was conducted by researchers from S.P. College and G.D. College in Srinagar. Vehicular emission could be one of the reasons for a higher value of NO2. However, a high concentration of SO2 was seen in industrial areas. It could be attributed to the burning of fossil fuels in industries and the use of fossil-fuel-powered generator sets.
Under the National Clean Air Program (NCAP), Srinagar is one of the two capital cities in J&K that has been declared as a Non-attainment City (NAC) in the J&K Action Plan. Non-attainment cities are those that have fallen short of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for over five years.
JKPCC has been incessantly monitoring the ambient air quality to assess the level of air pollutants in Srinagar at different stations. It has also imposed a moratorium for a period of two years since 2020, after conducting a carrying capacity study, on the air-polluting cement industries in some regions.
Sensitizing the masses about air pollution and its causes and consequences by conducting awareness programmes.
Mandating the use of electric ovens at eateries, notifying brick kilns and other factories to adapt to smokeless and cleaner fuels to reduce particulate matter concentration.
There is a need to establish proper vehicular management to reduce the levels of pollution in the city.
Now that climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, what awaits us is far more ominous and beyond our immediate control. What is seen today is just a glimpse of what could happen on a larger scale tomorrow. The time to take action with regard to adaptation and mitigation is now. We must prepare for undue climate variations, both economically and in relation to human health. The scientific community has time and again warned about the ill effects of climate change but people don’t heed their advice. The pressing issues like CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, deforestation, unreasonable use of resources, and hindering of ecological balance, whose outlines are far more clearly defined, need to be solved before the consequences could become far more deadly. (Copyright © JK Policy Institute)

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