With all 1.3 billion residents of India currently on lockdown, air pollution levels have dropped significantly, revealing a major silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic in the form of snow-capped Himalayan peaks. In places like Jalandhar in Punjab, the smog has cleared to such an extent that the Dhauladhar mountains – which lie over 160 kilometers (100 miles) away – have become visible for the first time in decades.
Locals have been taking to social media to share pictures of the distant peaks, with many claiming that this is the first time they have ever been able to glimpse these mountains from their hometown.
India’s urban centers are notorious for their high levels of air pollution. A global report conducted last year by IQ Air revealed that the country is home to six of the world’s 10 worst-affected cities when it comes to fine particulate matter. These microscopic particles, also known as PM 2.5, measure less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter and can enter the lungs and cardiovascular systems of anyone who breathes them in, resulting in potentially severe health problems.
Yet a new report conducted by India’s Central Pollution Control Board has revealed a massive drop in air pollution across the country since the lockdown came into effect on March 25. Ghaziabad, for instance, was ranked as the world’s most polluted city in IQ Air’s 2019 data, yet saw a 57 percent decrease in its air quality index (AQI) in the first three days of the national lockdown.
Delhi, meanwhile, saw its AQI fall from 162 to just 79 during the same period, with similar improvements observed across the country. "Data shows that on average, Indian cities had an AQI [Air Quality Index] of 115 between March 16 and 24," the report states, before adding that “the average AQI fell to 75 in the first three days of the lockdown."
Many of the greatest improvements were seen in northern states like Punjab and Rajasthan, both of which are home to numerous industrial centers that had until now spewed out enough air pollution to block out the Himalayas. Bhiwadi in Rajasthan experienced an 80 percent decrease in its AQI during the first three days of India’s lockdown, while Punjab’s steel-producing city of Mandi Gobindgarh saw a 64 percent reduction over the same period, India Today reports.
The global spread of coronavirus has caused a colossal drop in transport and industry worldwide, resulting in cleaner air over many major cities and highly populated areas. In early March, NASA satellites recorded a significant drop in nitrogen dioxide levels over China as the country ground to a halt and emissions fell.
At the time of writing, some 9,240 confirmed coronavirus cases have been registered in India, with 331 deaths. The country remains on lockdown until further notice.