Pollution levels in and around New Delhi have been hovering at alarmingly high levels for the past week and a UN body is helping the authorities identify pollution hotspots with artificial intelligence and geotesting, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) India head says.
The Indian capital has been facing one of the worst spells of air pollution in years, which doctors and environmentalists say is worsening the health effects of a third wave of coronavirus infections.
"Annually about one million people are affected and dying from air pollution in India, and this is the second-highest number after China. And when we think of the COVID factor, of course it would go up," UNDP India head Shoko Noda told Reuters.
Delhi's air quality index was "very poor" at 299 on a scale of 500 on Thursday. That was an improvement from severe conditions in the past several days after wind picked up and dispersed pollutants. But air quality is forecast to deteriorate closer to the Hindu festival Diwali this weekend, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said in a notice.
But Noda said the authorities in India, just like their counterparts in other countries around the world, faced the challenge of fighting pollution with some prudent economic decisions, including incentives for polluters to stop polluting instead of merely relying on regulations.
Noda said increased use of technology like artificial intelligence and geo testing could provide some solution, adding that UNDP was helping authorities in identifying non-compliant brick kilns that emit huge amounts of pollution through use of such technology.
The CPCB ordered a shutdown of asphalt mixing plants and stone crushers until November 17 in the capital and satellite cities, and told city authorities to ensure stricter enforcement of dust control at all construction sites and penalize violators. Other measures included stepping up mechanized cleaning of roads and checks on rubbish burning.
Beyond the capital itself, the pollution board ordered the state governments of nearby Punjab and Haryana to take "immediate stringent actions" to curb stubble burning, which has been a major source of air pollution this season.