Not the winds of change we expected from our neighbour

Friday, 9 December 2022 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) has issued a warning that the island’s air quality has deteriorated further to a hazardous level in some areas. 

According to the NBRO, the air quality has dropped to extremely dangerous levels due to an increase in dust particles in the atmosphere, which has resulted in the foggy or misty conditions seen these days in a number of locations throughout the island. According to the NBRO, one of the main causes of this problem is an influx of dust particles that are polluting Sri Lanka’s air space due to strong winds coming from India.

There are two main factors that influence air quality in Sri Lanka, the volume of emissions emanating from various sources. For instance, the more fossil fuels are burnt for transportation or energy, the more air pollutants there are. Attention must be given to the causes of air pollution and propose additional, as well as fix currently in place but ineffectual legislative solutions. 

Moreover, the monsoon’s shift in wind direction causes the population to receive a break from the otherwise severe levels of air pollution during the monsoon season. Resultantly, every year, between April/May and September/October, Colombo’s air quality drastically improves as the monsoon helps mask the air pollution. 

Air pollution, usually defined as fine inhalable particle matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less, has been directly linked to a number of detrimental health effects.

According to the US Air Quality Index (AQI), the air quality was at 249 in Colombo yesterday, which is considered to be harmful, along with many places of the country with readings between 150 and 200. Kurunegala had an AQI value of 291, Jaffna of 280, Vavuniya of 251, and Kandy of 214. A warning has also been issued for Puttalam and Hambantota after it was determined that the air quality is deteriorating further.

However, the AQI advises persons with compromised health to avoid extended outdoor work or activity if the air quality falls further into the unhealthy or red range (151-200). For everyone else, it is much healthier to use face masks when outdoors and spend as much time indoors as you can to prevent yourself from the hazardous decline in air quality. Environment Ministry Secretary Anil Jasinghe has cautioned against outdoor activities for children, the elderly and anyone with allergies and respiratory conditions because of the poor air quality in the nation. If kids are participating in outside activities, they are advised to wear face masks.

An interesting outcome of what was essentially a natural experiment during the COVID-19 outbreak, testing if a decrease in traffic could enhance air quality, can be seen. The COVID-19 related movement limitations made it possible to gather data to calculate the change in Colombo’s air quality and assess the issue of a COVID-clean up. Overall, it appears that the COVID-19 limitations have reduced the average amount of time that individuals in Colombo spend breathing harmful air by 60%.

According to the NBRO, the extraordinary increase in airborne contaminants may be related to the island’s surrounding wind patterns. A broad trend has been noticed showing the winds traveling into Sri Lanka from the Indian peninsular region, according to IQAir’s charts. Sri Lanka experiences four distinct wind patterns: One from May to August, one from the northeast monsoon until mid-February, and two inter-monsoon trends that each endure until mid-November.A study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that pollution levels in practically all of India are 5.5 times higher than what is advised by the WHO. As India celebrates a number of festivals in the upcoming weeks, including Diwali, pollution levels in Sri Lanka are anticipated to rise even further. Much needs to be done to prevent such environmental degradation caused by surrounding countries activities.