Friday, 13 May 2016
Why our northern plains are world's most polluted area
NEW DELHI: The northern Indian plains have again come into focus as one of the globe's most-polluted regions, with nine of the world's 20 most polluted cities in the 2016 WHO urban air pollution database from this swathe of land. What make this region's air so foul? It's a confluence of factors, say experts, with geography, climate, population, agricultural practices as well as fossil fuel emissions all playing a part. "A major reason for high pollution in the Indo-Gangetic plains is its geography. Located next to the Himalayas, this is a wind convergence zone which transports pollution from other places into these region," said Gufan Beig, project director of System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), which monitors air quality in a number of cities. The convergence factor shows up the most in winters, when the region sees spells of dense fog due to cold winds coming from the west. Fog traps pollutants, leading to sharp deterioration in air quality.Cold winds also leads to `inversion', wherein pollutants are trapped near the surface. The northern plains also have among the highest population densities in the world.This translates to higher pollution from human activities."The other major source of pollution is the practice of crop burning. During winters, soot from these fires hang in the air longer. The region also sees high use of coal and wood, which are very polluting, for cooking," Beig said. Ironically, the region's fertile alluvial soil, which attracted people to this belt, also contributes to its pollution. Alluvial soil is highly dusty when dry, say experts. "Many parts of this region do not get much rain — the average for Delhi is 40 days in a year -which is why these places are very dusty," said a CPCB official.
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