‘Tough task for Delhi to clean air before CWG’

Monday, May 10, 2010

NEW DELHI - All is not well on the pollution front ahead of the upcoming Commonwealth Games. An air quality assessment in the national capital released Monday found that pollution levels are climbing in Delhi.

The assessment carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) based on air quality data provided by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for the first four months of the year found that levels of tiny particles (PM10), nitrogen oxide and ozone in the air are very high and climbing.

“Delhi, like Beijing, has come under increasing pressure not only to lower the pollution spikes but also to meet the air quality standards. In fact, studies have found that the air quality improvement due to Beijing Olympics have led to health benefits in terms of respiratory ailments,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, head of CSE’s air pollution unit.

“Air pollution levels are daunting. The Delhi government has a tough task to check air pollution before the Games as this could have harmful effects on the health of athletes.

“Cutting these levels during the Games will need scale, stringency and frenetic pace of action to ensure that the public health benefits last beyond the event,” she said.

“Clearing the haze takes on a specific significance in the context of the Games as athletes have to perform to potential, especially in extreme endurance events and they need clean air. With every breath, athletes typically take in 10 to 20 times as much air, and thus pollutants, as sedentary people,” Roychowdhury added.

Delhi has already begun to take action in nearly all sectors to control air pollution over the past decade.

“It has relocated polluting industries, moved from Euro I to Euro IV emissions standards for vehicles, all buses, three-wheelers and a great part of taxis run on CNG (Compressed Natural Gas), 15-year-old commercial vehicles are off the road, transit freight traffic is restricted, controls on power plants are tighter, open burning of leaves is banned and so on,” the assessment found.

Pollution trends at the onset of the Games in October will need to be watched carefully. Studies in Delhi have shown that the pollution concentrations can invariably be 40-80 percent higher during the winter months.

The assessment found that Delhi has a chance to plan its mobility differently.

“It has already embarked on upscaling of public transport systems with metro, bus augmentation plans, multi-modal integration and expanding walk and bicycle paths. But this will have to be leveraged to reduce dependence on personal vehicles,” it said.

The CSE highlighted the lessons from Beijing in its analysis that even after seven years of consistent and aggressive efforts, Beijing still found it difficult to ensure clean air during the Games and had to be ready with a contingent plan. Beijing actually removed three million cars from the roads during the Games.

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