Air Quality Index with Particulate Matter (PM2.5) Improved after National Lockdown during COVID-19 Outbreak across Pakistan
Khurshied Ahmed Khan1*, Muhammad Mubbin2, Ikram ul Haq M1 ,Nisar Hussain1, Muhammad Mudassar Maqbool1, 1Matlob Ahmad1, 1Muhammad Salman Hameed, 1Muhammad Athar Khaliq1 Shahbaz Ali, Ahmad Kamran Khan1,Tahria Batool Qasrani1, 1Maqbool Ahmad, Muhmmad Ijaz Hussain1, Asma Noureen1
1Ghazi University City Campus, Dera Ghazi Khan 32200, Pakistan
2Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, North West University, South Africa
Received Date: 26/06/2020; Published Date: 13/07/2020
*Corresponding author: Khurshied Ahmed Khan, Ghazi University City Campus, Dera Ghazi Khan 32200, Pakistan
Cite this article: Khurshied Ahmed Khan, Air Quality Index with Particulate Matter (PM2.5) Improved after National Lockdown during COVID-19 Outbreak across Pakistan, Op Acc J Bio Sci & Res 3(2)-2020.
For Pakistan and as well as for world community COVID-19 is a huge tragedy. The defensive actions plan of Pakistan to contain COVID-19 pandemic includes self-isolation, home quarantine, social distancing and lockdown. The lockdown strategy adopted by the different provincial governments which involve non-functioning and closure of all the commerce business trade centers and industrial units. However, as a blessing in disguise, these measures have a positive effect on the environment in terms of reduction in toxic gasses like nitrogen dioxide, aerosols, particulate matter, and improvement in air quality. In this paper we analyzed the impact of lockdown on air quality index in major cities of Pakistan during different stages of government-enforced shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The data revealed that March to May lockdown 2020 lead to in a radical descent of approximately 35% to 50% in air pollution level in Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and many cities across the country. Pakistan’s Air Quality Index (AQI) levels improved with particulate matter (PM2.5) which reaches near about normal from unhealthy to moderate range considerably due to termination of economic activities, closed factories in hotspot zones and an additional reason for the uncertain variations in NO2 emissions was the rapid fall in inner-city traffic, which by some estimates declined as much as 65% across Pakistan. The lockdown chapter facilitated to clean the environment and shown relationship of air pollution levels strongly linked with higher commercial activities (Transportation, energy production and industrial activities) along with small scale interventions at city levels. Further it is suggested that in order to avoid pollution intensities bouncing back, Pakistan need to swing from the existing poorly fossil fuel hooked economy to clean energy based systems. We found the fact that how the environment is self-healing during the lockdown and this study will be beneficial to environmentalists and industry professionals to make the future strategy for improving the environment. Further it is too early and premature to connect on long-term climate change as a result of lockdown.
The whole world moving through a very disastrous phase due to the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). It is a very contagious disease that became the reason to declare a global public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) . In Pakistan, COVID-19 was reported on 26th February 2020 and spread to many districts of the country. The total cases reported on 20th June 2020 were one lac sixty thousand with seventy thousand recoveries and above 3000 deaths (COVID-19. 2020). Preventive measures for COVID-19 include lockdown, social distancing, and washing hands frequently . Coronavirus outbreak has enforced states under lockdown condition which impacted a halt on public services such as transportation and on commercial economy, agricultural as well as industrial activities around the globe . The dealing precautionary methods against COVID-19 are engaged in direction to encircle the pandemic and save lives.
According to environmental experts the positive impact of lockdown within the different countries appeared in the form of reduced particulate matter (PM2.5) and improved Air Quality Index . According to accessible data through (TROPOMI Sentinel-5P satellite) experts found that emission of greenhouse gas reduced in major polluted cities of world to considerable amount under coronavirus quarantines. Environmental experts define Air Quality Index (QAI) as the degree to which air is fit or cleans sufficiently for humans, animals and plants. It is obstructed by the quantity of particulate matter (PM2.5) it carries, which refers to insignificant small particles of metals such as copper, magnesium, lithium, nickel-cobalt, arsenic, selenium, and zinc, as well as multifarious gaseous aerosols. Being tiny, According to medical experts PM2.5 particles easily move in into the bloodstream (Arteries, Veins, and Capillaries) and root respirational and cardiac diseases .Per CERB, (Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air) in December 2018, Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi had AQI levels of 336 (Hazardous), 159 (Unhealthy) and 141 (Unhealthy), and demonstrated same signs of AQI levels at end for the year 2019 which showed an exceptionally alarming sign to be harmful and unhealthy for the public .
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air, which yearly executes seven million individuals. The expiries, in short burden the international economy billions of dollars in lost labor. While some states of the world have expressively improved the quality of their air, Data collected by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) showed that in Pakistan, an predictable 128,000 individuals expire every year from infections associated to air pollution . Learning from international experience, the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan decided a lockdown in the country. As a result, not only routine livelihood of masses was disturbed, but the situation had led to closure of economic activity. As the literature suggests, economic activity, specifically industrial production, directly associated with carbon emissions, environmental degradation which often measured through Air Quality Index (AQI). We Tracked Air Quality Index of major cities in Pakistan in post immense lock down. This paper considered and compared reporting figures of Air Quality Index before and after lockdown on 20th of every month in major cities of Pakistan. Adapted from Public Domain. Source: https://aqicn.org/scale/. This scope of current study restricted to major the largest city and industrial hub of Pakistan. The main idea of this paper is to emphasize the fact that how the environment is self-healing during the lockdown and this study will be beneficial to environmentalists and industry professionals to make the future strategy for improving the environment.
Method and Approach
We tracked Air Quality Index of major Pakistani cities during the COVID-19 lockdown and compare it with international accepted AQI scale as shown in Figure 1. The main idea is to emphasize the fact that how the environment is impacted by the lockdown and further description of various images retrieved from Center for Research and Clean Air Pakistan https://energyandcleanair.org/
Further the method involves collection and comparison of raw data obtained from different of cities though Public Domain. Source: https://aqicn.org/scale/ which report daily data on Air Quality Index .We report data on above Figure 1 scale values before and after lockdown since January to June on 20th of every month.
Figure 1: Air Quality Index levels of health concern (AQI) values as a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, an AQI value of 50 or below represents good air quality, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality.
Results and Discussion
Effect of lockdown on environment in Pakistan
During lockdown phase in Pakistan air pollution level and particulate matter have condensed considerably reduced due to decreased fossil fuel intake in transport carriages, commerce, Industries and power plants along with drop in other sources of pollution. Pakistan’s Air Quality Index (AQI) levels have improved significantly following the closure of factories and transport during the lockdown imposed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus as shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Different levels of Air Quality Index and Particulate matter PM2.5 across key cities in Pakistan recorded on (20 January -20 April 2020) and after (20May- 20th June 2020) the national lockdown announcement.
When lockdown was imposed in mid-March and factories and brick kilns were closed down, and cars and heavy vehicles also almost disappeared off the roads, air quality levels had improved to such an extent, that the air cleared up, and the AQ index showed readings of ‘good’ (0 to 50) to ‘moderate’ (51 to 100) levels. Now, AQI is showing readings of levels that are ‘unhealthy to sensitive groups’ (101 to 150) and unhealthy (151 to 200). The Air Quality Index is based on measurement of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), Ozone (O3), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Carbon Monoxide (CO) emissions . During the lockdown, there was a 62 per cent reduction in Lahore’s smog levels, but even then, air pollution was still above safe limits. Since lockdown, average air pollution has remained above safe limits; while according to Punjab’s own environmental quality standard the AQI read 15 micrograms per cubic meter only for one day Figure 2.
Figure 2: Image data source retrieved from Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air https://energyandcleanair.org/ Approx. reductions in NO2 levels across key cities in Pakistan before (1st March- 23rd March 2020) and after (24th March- 15th April 2020) the national lockdown announcement (TROPOMI Sentinel-5P satellite). https://sentinel.esa.int/web/sentinel/missions/sentinel-5p.
According to availed data source Pakistan experienced improved air quality during the coronavirus lockdown the reopening of rush-hour traffic and commercial activities has once again lead to increased air pollution and poor air quality in various parts of the country, including Punjab. It was observed that the two months of the nationwide lockdown had resulted in significant reductions in the amount of Nitrogen Dioxide NO2 and PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere. Although there are no official statistics available for air pollution in Pakistan, the difference can be clearly seen in the images released on February 03, March 30 and April 20 by the European Satellite S5P, showing the situations in various cities before and after the lockdown  Figure 3.
Figure 3: Image data source retrieved from Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air https://energyandcleanair.org/ Map showing NO2 reductions over Islamabad and Rawalpindi before (1st March- 23rd March 2020) and after (24th March- 15th April 2020) the national lockdown announcement https://sentinel.esa.int/web/sentinel/missions/sentinel-5p.
According to data source Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air https://energyandcleanair.org/, PM2.5 and NO2 levels had dropped significantly during the days of lockdown. A comparison in which air quality was checked in major cities before the lockdown from March 1 to March 23 and then during the lockdown from March 24 to April 15, revealed a 49% reduction in the amount of NO2 in Lahore, 45% in Peshawar and 56% in the twin-cities. Similarly, on the first day of the lockdown on March 23, the proportion of PM2.5 particles in atmosphere was also recorded to be surprisingly low. In Lahore, the amount of PM2.5 particles was 85 on March 23 219, which was reduced by 63% on March 23 2020 to 32. Likewise, the amount of NO2 particles, which was 113 on March 23 2019, came down to only 76 on the same day a year later on March 23 2020 Figures 4-7.
Figure 4: Image data source retrieved from Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air https://energyandcleanair.org/ Map showing NO2 reductions over Karachi before (1st March- 23rd March 2020) and after (24th March- 15th April 2020) the national lockdown announcement https://sentinel.esa.int/web/sentinel/missions/sentinel-5p.
Figure 5: Image data source retrieved Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air https://energyandcleanair.org/ Map showing NO2 reductions over Lahore before (1st March- 23rd March 2020) and after (24th March- 15th April 2020) the national lockdown announcement https://sentinel.esa.int/web/sentinel/missions/sentinel-5p.
Figure 6: Image data source retrieved from Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air https://energyandcleanair.org/ Map showing NO2 reductions over Peshawar before (1st March- 23rd March 2020) and after (24th March- 15th April 2020) the national lockdown announcement https://sentinel.esa.int/web/sentinel/missions/sentinel-5p.
Figure 7: Image data source retrieved from Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air https://energyandcleanair.org/ Map showing NO2 reductions over Multan and DG Khan before (1st March- 23rd March 2020) and after (24th March- 15th April 2020) the national lockdown announcement https://sentinel.esa.int/web/sentinel/missions/sentinel-5p.
In addition to that, as per IQAir’s website, air quality index for Lahore, which ranks seventh among 96 major cities in terms of air pollution, was recorded to be 110 on June 8. While Karachi, which is ranked ninth among the 96 countries, had an air quality index of 92 on June 8. Similarly, the air quality index in Peshawar was 156 while in Islamabad it was recorded 113 and it is expected that air quality in all these cities is likely to deteriorate further in the coming days. The reason behind NO2 amplification primarily gets in the air from the burning of fuel and mainly formed by emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, and off-road equipment. Most of these activities being absent/reduced due to nationwide lockdown, the emissions have gone down drastically.
Two NO2 hotspots which were visible before the lockdown around Lahore as shown in Figure 5 in areas like Lahore-Sheikhupura road (North-West of Lahore) and Raiwind to Pattoki belt (South of Lahore) with clusters of oil based power plants have reduced considerably indicating decrease in operations. Similarly, for Karachi Figure 4 the satellite data indicates that there were significant reductions in emissions but areas around Korangi-Landhi industrial areas as well as around fertilizer and cement plants at Bin Qasim port still appear to be hotspots for NO2 emissions indicating that some of these facilities were still in operation during the lockdown. Another reason for the marginal changes in NO2 emissions is the sudden drop in urban traffic, which by some estimates declined as much as 65% across Pakistan. Using geo-location data, Google estimates that Pakistanis under the lockdown largely stayed away from businesses, parks, shopping centers and workplaces. Poor fuel quality and increasing vehicle concentration have been blamed as the primary cause of poor air quality in Pakistan, and the drastic decrease in vehicular mobility has cut down a major proportion of urban emissions.
NO2 is a dangerous pollutant, responsible for an estimated 120,000 new cases of child asthma and 4,000 premature deaths per year in Pakistan. It is also a key contributor to PM2.5 formation. The graphs and maps above show that the pollution problem can be tackled and clean skies and breathable air is achievable in Pakistan. The ongoing lockdown helping clean the air also shows that the linkage of air pollution levels in South Asian region are very strongly associated with bigger economic activities (Transportation, energy production and industrial activities) along with small scale interventions at city levels. This tells us that in order to avoid pollution levels bouncing back as the economy turns a corner and the coronavirus crisis passes, a shift from the current highly fossil fuel dependent economy to clean energy based systems has to be adopted. Moving forward we will need to adopt state of the art more efficient pollution/emission control technologies for the industries, power generation facilities and transport vehicles to reduce their emission load and pollution.
- Switch our transportation system from being biased towards promoting privatized modes of transportation to better public transportation facilities and systems.
- Develop Non-Motorised-Transportation (NMT) systems such as walking and cycling as modes for movement for citizens rather than vehicles.
C. Invest aggressively in cleaner and renewable energy sources.
Environmental pollution is the main cause of diseases and expiries all over the world. Large populations of the world expire due to the diseases linked with air pollution. Therefore, in this difficult time environment is in self-healing mode as many of the destructive toxins in the world are at bottom levels. In this paper, the effect on environmental parameters due to the lockdown as a preventive for COVID-19 has been analyzed for Pakistan. Due to the lockdown, throughout the Pakistan, a significant reduction in the emissions like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone and particulate matter has been observed from the results. In this time, nature is rejuvenating as there is a considerable decrease in harmful pollutants which are fatal to human health and environment. This study is beneficial to the policymakers and environmentalists and medical professionals to analyze and access the effect of various factors on the reduction of pollutants so that future infrastructure and policy can the planned accordingly to accommodate it Further it is premature to communicate on long-term climate change as a result of lockdown.
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