Sunday, November 28, 2021

Farm Fires Make Pollution Worse in Delhi and Lahore

Why does the air quality in New Delhi and Lahore ranks among the world's worst at this time of the year? The answer to this oft-repeated question can be found in the satellite maps constantly updated by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  Indian government recently estimated that 36% of  pollution was contributed by farm fires. Here's how NASA Earth Observatory explains it: "The haze visible in this image likely results from a combination of agricultural fires, urban and industrial pollution, and a regional temperature inversion. Most of the time, air higher in the atmosphere is cooler than air near the planet’s surface, and this configuration allows warm air to rise from the ground and disperse pollutants. In the wintertime, however, cold air frequently settles over northern India, trapping warmer air underneath. The temperature inversion traps pollutants along with warm air at the surface, contributing to the buildup of haze."

Farm Fires Seen By NASA Satellite. Source: FIRMS

Farm Fires:

The latest image downloaded from NASA's Fire Information for Resource Information System (FIRMS) show farm fires burning in both India and Pakistan. These fires are particularly intense in Indian and Pakistani provinces of the Punjab. These fires contribute significantly to the high level of particulates in Delhi and Lahore. Indian government recently estimated that 36% of the PM2.5 particulate matter was contributed by stubble burning by farmers.

South Asia's Vulnerability:

South Asia is particularly susceptible to pollutants that hang in the air for extended periods of time. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite images show dull gray haze hovering over northern India and Pakistan, and parts of Bangladesh. It is believed that emissions from solid fuel burning, industrial pollutants and farm clearing fires get trapped along the southern edge of the Himalayas. NASA Earth Observatory explains this phenomenon as follows:

"The haze visible in this image likely results from a combination of agricultural fires, urban and industrial pollution, and a regional temperature inversion. Most of the time, air higher in the atmosphere is cooler than air near the planet’s surface, and this configuration allows warm air to rise from the ground and disperse pollutants. In the wintertime, however, cold air frequently settles over northern India, trapping warmer air underneath. The temperature inversion traps pollutants along with warm air at the surface, contributing to the buildup of haze."

Trapped Smog. Source: Al Jazeera 


Urgent Actions Needed: 

South Asian governments need to act to deal with rapidly rising particulate pollution jointly. Some of the steps they need to take are as follows:

1. Crack down on stubble burning to clear fields. Incentivize use of machine removal of stubble. 

2. Reduce the use of solid fuels such as cow dungwood and coal to limit particulate matter released into the atmosphere.

3. Impose higher emission standards on industries and vehicles through regulations.

4. Incentivize transition to electric vehicles.

5. Increase forest cover by planting more trees.

6. Encourage the use of more renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, nuclear etc.

The cost of acting now may seem high but it will turn out to be a lot more expensive to deal with extraordinary disease burdens resulting from rising air pollution.


Pakistan NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) For Climate Goals. Source: UN

Pakistan at COP26: 

Malik Amin Aslam, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's special assistant on climate change, said recently in an interview with CNN that his country is seeking to change its energy mix to favor green.  He said Pakistan's 60% renewable energy target would to be based on solar, wind and hydro power projects, and 40% would come from hydrocarbon and nuclear which is also low-carbon. “Nuclear power has to be part of the country’s energy mix for the future as a zero energy emission source for a clean and green future,” he concluded. Here are the key points Aslam made to Becky Anderson of CNN:

1. Pakistan wants to be a part of the solution even though it accounts for less than 1% of global carbon emissions. 

 2. Extreme weather events are costing Pakistan significant losses of lives and property. Pakistan is among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. 

3. Pakistan is moving towards renewable energy by converting 60% of its energy mix to renewable by 2030. Electric vehicle (EV) transition is also beginning in his country. 

4. Aslam said:  “We are one of the world leaders on nature based solutions. However, the World Bank (WB) in its Report yesterday came up with really good numbers in a comparison of countries who are shifting their mainstream development towards environment friendly policies and Pakistan came atop among them,” the SAPM explained. 

Summary:

Movement of pollutants does not recognize national borders. It has severe consequences for both India and Pakistan.  The only way to deal with it is for the two nations to cooperate to minimize this problem.

South Asia accounts for more than a third of all PM2.5 pollution related deaths in the world. The sources of particulate pollution range from solid fuel burning to crop clearing fires and use of dirty fuels in vehicles and industries. Recognition of the growing problem is urgent. Failure to act could be very costly in terms of impact on human health and economy. Pakistan needs to follow through on its commitments made at COP26 conference recently held in Glasgow, Scotland. 

Here's a video of Malik Amin Aslam's interview with CNN"s Becky Anderson:

https://youtu.be/Q_s4kQXChuM


Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistan's Response to Climate Change

Pakistan Electric Vehicle Policy

Cutting Methane Emissions From Cow Burps and Farts

India's Air Most Toxic

State of Air 2017

Environmental Pollution in India

Diwali in Silicon Valley

India Leads the World in Open Defecation

Heavy Disease Burdens in South Asia


2 comments:

Riaz Haq said...

#Delhi's #toxic #air is fueled by farmers burning crop stubble. But fires don't stop. Why? Answer lies in #water. But the time bomb - of depleting #groundwater - ticks on. The air might get cleaner when water runs out. But what will #India do about #food? https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-59808770

Think of the fields that are on fire. They get only between 500-700mm (19-27 in) of rainfall a year. Yet, many of these fields grow a dual crop of paddy and wheat. Paddy alone needs about 1,240mm (48.8 in) of rainfall each year, and so, farmers use groundwater to bridge the gap.

The northern states of Punjab and Haryana, which grow large amounts of paddy, together take out roughly 48 billion cubic metres (bcm) of groundwater a year, which is not much less than India's overall annual municipal water requirement: 56bcm. As a result, groundwater levels in these states are dropping rapidly. Punjab is expected to run out of groundwater in 20-25 years from 2019, according to an official estimate.

The burning fields is a symptom of the deteriorating relationship between India and its water.

Long ago, farmers grew crops based on locally available water. Tanks, inundation canals and forests helped smoothen the inherent variability of India's tempestuous water.

But in the late 19th Century, the land began to transform as the British wanted to secure India's north-western frontier against possible Russian incursion. They built canals connecting the rivers of Punjab, bringing water to a dry land. They cut down forests, feeding the wood to railways that could cart produce from the freshly watered fields. And they imposed a fixed tax payable in cash that made farmers eager to grow crops that could be sold easily. These changes made farmers believe that water could be shaped, irrespective of local sources - a crucial change in thinking that is biting us today.

After independence from the British in 1947, repeated droughts made the Indian government succumb to the lure of the "green revolution".

Until then, rice, a water-hungry crop, was a marginal crop in Punjab. It was grown on less than 7% of the fields. But beginning in the early 1960s, paddy cultivation was encouraged by showing farmers how to cheaply and conveniently tap into a new, seemingly-endless source of water that lay underground.

The flat power tariffs to run borewells were cheapened and finally not paid - removing any incentive to conserve water. Water did not need to be managed, farmers were taught, only extracted. In the heady first years of the revolution, fields began to churn out paddy and wheat, and India became food-secure. But after a couple of decades, the water began to sputter.

To conserve groundwater, a 2009 law forbade farmers from sowing and transplanting paddy before a pre-determined date based on the onset of the monsoon. The aim was to make the borewells run less in the peak summer months.

But the delay in paddy planting shrunk the gap between the paddy harvest and sowing of wheat. And the quickest way to clear the fields was to burn them, giving rise to the smoky plumes that add to northern India's air pollution.

So, the toxic smog is but a visible symbol of India's trainwreck of a relationship with its water.

Riaz Haq said...

#Garbage mountain bigger than 50 football fields and taller than a 17-story building burns in #Delhi, #India. #LandfillFire #toxic #Modi #Hindutva #BJP https://www.usatoday.com/picture-gallery/news/world/2022/04/27/landfill-bigger-than-50-football-fields-burns-new-delhi-india/9552792002/

A ragpicker separates items at the edge of a fire at the Bhalswa landfill in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. The landfill that covers an area bigger than 50 football fields, with a pile taller than a 17-story building caught fire on Tuesday evening, turning into a smoldering heap that blazed well into the night. India's capital, which like the rest of South Asia is in the midst of a record-shattering heat wave, was left enveloped in thick acrid smoke.