Addressing Air Quality Spurts due to Crop Stubble Burning during COVID-19 Pandemic: A Policy Brief
World over the headlines are centered on COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and various governments across the world see this pandemic sticking around for longer than everyone would hope for. Not a happy situation to be in (given the serious fallouts of the nature of COVID-19 management strategies on economies, employment, livelihood, health, and wellbeing of people). Yet, it demands that all stakeholders-governments, UN organisations, industry, people, civil society-to shift their strategy from reactive to proactive.
While industry needs to develop a good understanding of the implications of the current disruptions, as well as the future threats and risks and accordingly develop a contingency plan to totally avoid some of these, and minimise the impacts on their businesses.
The governments also have a duty to: (i) develop and implement the measures that would minimise the risks to the economic recovery and (ii) focus on all possible measures to arrest the events that may contribute to serious disruptions such as poor air quality (AQ) thus further aggravating this unprecedented health crises in at least two ways.
One, poor AQ poses additional risk to people getting hit by COVID-19, and two, cases of respiratory illnesses due to poor AQ will put additional burden on already overwhelmed modest health infrastructure in India. Come winter, Delhi AQ (sudden worsening in AQ due to paddy stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana) becomes a hot topic for the media, government, political circles, and elite population. The concern and anger of the last category is due, largely, to delayed or missed flights. AQ in Delhi or AQ in general in other urban hot spots has not been a serious election issue so far which could be due to the fact that the common man which bears the large brunt of health issues due to poor AQ has many other serious issues to deal with, and partly due to lack of understanding and awareness of the costs of poor AQ.
However, available information shows that management of COVID-19 in persons with weak respiratory system is much harder and tricky and is associated with high mortality rates. There is evidence to suggest that cases of respiratory illness increase in Delhi in winter competing with other illness cases for limited health support systems. With COVID-19 the existing health infrastructure is already under severe stress.
Also, It is likely that poor AQ (high SPM) might aid human-to-human transmission of COVID-19 although there is no scientific evidence yet to support this. This may mean that we have a giant imperative to avoid the annual disaster of AQ in Delhi and other cities of India. In this note we focus on AQ in Delhi. What solutions can we find now, to avoid the disaster in November - December 2020?