A breather from pollution
Los Angeles, New Delhi, and Beijing have at least one thing in common – they are some of the smoggiest cities in the world. With a third of the world in lockdown and economies shuttered for close to three months to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, these megacities are experiencing clearer skies for the first time in decades.
On a typical pre-COVID-19 day, emissions from vehicles and factories resulted in heavy smog, obscuring skyscrapers, and historic sites in overpopulated and industrial cities. Air pollution is the cause of millions of deaths yearly around the world. Here’s a look at the smoggiest cities worldwide and how they are faring during the quarantine.
According to European Space Agency’s satellite imagery, strict measures and factory closures earlier this year caused a ‘dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide concentrations – those released by power plants, industrial facilities, and vehicles in all major Chinese cities,’ bringing clear skies to Beijing. President Xi Jinping’s anti-pollution campaign that began in 2013, with the shuttering of coal-fired plants in Beijing, reduced the levels of PM2.5 (matter that is known to cause cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems) by more than half. However, pollution still remained a problem in China’s capital. That is, until the coronavirus pandemic.
“Air quality in Beijing has been amazing; it’s been clear blue skies for weeks,” says Dr David Roye, who arrived in Beijing on February 19 for work. He’s seen the mountains west of the city on and off during prior visits to China, but he can now see them clearly every morning from his apartment. “In the last 80 days, I had no polluted days in Beijing and it is wonderful being here. I used to only work out at the gym in the hotel, but now I run, walk in the parks, climb in the local parks, so it’s been a totally different experience,” Dr Roye says.
New Delhi, India
The 21 million residents of New Delhi, the world’s most polluted capital, have also been getting a reprieve from the constant smog that fills the air. The sprawling capital of India is experiencing the longest period of clean air on the record and a 60 per cent decline in air pollution. The fossil-fuelled country, with a population of 1.3 billion, implemented the largest shutdown in the world on March 25 to curb the spread of coronavirus.
In a city where people check the AQI (Air Quality Index) before venturing outside, this is a welcome break. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, pollution from industries, construction, agriculture, and vehicles engulfed the megacity with an unhealthy level of grey smog for months. “Gone is the familiar menacing red banner, indicating how each intake of breath is really just a toxic blast on the lungs, replaced instead by a healthy, cheerful green,” wrote The Guardian.