06:14 GMT25 October 2020
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    New Delhi (Sputnik): The 50th Earth Day comes at a time when the world is hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdowns imposed by various countries to stop the spread of the highly contagious disease have yielded unintended benefits for the environment – pure air, cleaner rivers, and blue skies.

    It feels like the Earth is healing: the thick black smog has cleared and the skies have turned blue again, the air is purer, and people have gotten a momentary sense of breathing not toxic gases, but fresh air.

    Sunita Narain, director at the Centre for Science and Environment, tells Sputnik that what is clear to us on this Earth Day is that this joy of nature has come at an enormous and unacceptable human cost to millions in the world.

    “We must remember that at the current levels of pollution, it took as much as shutting down everything. Yes, this is what it will take”, she explains.

    According to a report by NASA, due to the reduced human activities during lockdown, the aerosol level in northern India – which made headlines for the unprecedented level of air pollution – is at a 20-year low for this season.

    The national capital Delhi now also has a 2.5-level of particulate matter in the air – equal to that of the Scandinavian countries, which are known for performing better on welfare indexes.

    Sunita elaborates that when smog hits Delhi again in the winter, controlling it would require taking every car off the road and not playing with an odd-even vehicle rationing scheme; it would require shutting down all industries.

    “I say this not because this is what we must do in winter. But I say this, because if we want to have clear skies, then we will have to move heaven and earth to get much more done so that we can have livelihoods as well as our right to breathe”, she opines.

    On the other hand, the Yamuna River in Delhi, which was declared a dead due to zero oxygen is now showing signs of revival as the lockdown has halted the industry processes that resulted in dumping effluents in the river.

    Lockdown Breaks the Chain; Sustain it

    But has this lockdown broken the cycle and somewhere given us a chance for a fresh start to sustain what we have got, once it ends?

    Professor Gauhar Mahmood of Jamia Millia University's Department of Civil Engineering, who is currently working on water management plan for Yamuna, says: "Lockdown has given a clear message that we can improve the water quality if we control the industries. Within a month of lockdown we have got a very good result especially in terms of hydro environment".

    The professor points out that the hydrogeo environment is ultimately affecting the health of the people. Heavy metals in the water due to the waste dumped by industries are also causing a lot of miscarriages, as the river is an indirect source of water for many households.

    “If the water quality of Yamuna improves, naturally the human health will too”, Mahmood said.

    When asked if the Delhi government is considering maintaining the trend by asking industries to mend their waste management systems, Deputy Chief Minister of the state Manish Sisodia says that the focus at present is to save lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent starvation among the poor during the lockdown.

    “All we are thinking right now is about how to stop the spread of corona… First, we need to save lives. Even if we keep some river of the country clean but thousands of people die, then who are we keeping the river clean for?” Sisodia wonders.

    Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to Twitter to mark Earth Day and expressed gratitude to the planet for its "abundance of care and compassion".

    ​Videos urging people to take necessary action to save Mother Earth and pictures of the improved water bodies were widely shared on this 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

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    Tags:
    water pollution, air pollution, Earth Day, Earth Day, lockdown, Delhi, India
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