The COVID-19 lockdown-led reduction in air pollution levels across five Indian cities in India, including Delhi and Mumbai, may have prevented about 630 premature deaths, and saved USD 690 million in health costs in the country, according to a new study.
Scientists, including those from the University of Surrey in the UK, assessed the levels of harmful fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from vehicles and other sources in five Indian cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad — since the beginning of the lockdown period.
The study, published in the journal Sustainable Cities and Society, compared these lockdown PM2.5 figures from 25 March up until 11 May, with those from similar periods of the preceding five years, and found that the measure reduced pollution levels in all these places. According to the scientists, during this period, the levels of these harmful air pollutants reduced by 10 per cent in Mumbai, and by up to 54 per cent in Delhi.
“The percentage reduction for the other cities ranged from 24 to 32 per cent, which were slightly smaller than the measured values for Delhi and Mumbai,” the scientists noted in the study.
“While the reduction in PM2.5 pollution may not be surprising, the size of the reduction should make us all take notice of the impact we have been having on the planet,” said Prashant Kumar, a co-author of the study from the University of Surrey. The scientists said these reductions in PM2.5 were comparable to those reported in other cities across the world, such as in Austria’s capital Vienna (60 per cent), and Shanghai (42 per cent) in China.
They also calculated the monetary value of the reduced mortality due to air pollution, and found that the lowered levels of PM2.5 may have saved 630 people from premature death, and USD 690 million in health costs in India.
According to the researchers, the present lockdown situation offers observational opportunities regarding potential control systems and regulations for improved urban air quality. They said an integrated approach might help in understanding overall impacts of COVID-19 lockdown-style interventions and support the implementation of relevant policy frameworks.
“This is an opportunity for us all to discuss and debate what the ‘new normal’ should look like – particularly when it comes to the quality of the air we breathe,” Kumar said.