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Air Quality Has Sharply Improved Around the World During COVID-19

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Luis Monzon
Luis Monzon
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While no person would choose to go through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, researchers worldwide are keen to investigate the effects of this crisis global experiment.

Sustainability experts, Lerato Moja, deputy director for South Africa’s department of environmental affairs and Lungile Manzini, assistant director for the department, write about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the quality of air, nature and environment.

Around half of the world’s population is on lockdown in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, a public health emergency that has claimed thousands of lives and sparked fears of the worst global recession since the Great Depression.

This has brought about a profound change in the quality of air, water as well as the environment.

Drastic changes in natural environments

Noticeably, many countries including South Africa have seen some positive change in terms of the natural environment, and other countries have seen a drastic reduction in air pollution as industries shut down with fewer cars on the road and flights suspended during this period.

Media reports also concur and point out that changes on the environment have been noticed in Northern Indian state of Punjab, where people have been able to see the Himalayan Mountain from more than 160 km away because of the reduced air pollution during the COVID-19 lockdown, a first in more than 30 years.

In South Africa, The Guardian reported that lions at the Kruger National Park have been seen sleeping and lying around on the road as people remain in their homes. Academic research journals state that satellites have shown cleaner air across Europe, North America and Asia.

In a study measuring air quality in Bangladesh, the results indicated that there was a notable reduction of 40%, 32% and 13% compared to the daily mean concentrations of previous dry seasons for PM2.5, PM10 and NO2 respectively during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The reduction in air pollution has been welcome as researchers from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that dirty air makes COVID-19 more lethal.

This study found that the tiny pollutant particles known as PM2.5, breathed over many years, sharply raise the chances of dying from the virus. Additionally, the dangers of air pollution have been highlighted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO estimates that more than 4.2 million people die worldwide due to the exposure of ambient (outdoor) air pollution.

We need to look to the future

These improvements in air quality are going to be temporary, write Moja and Manzini, however, it gives a glimpse into what air quality could look like should society commit to a cleaner and sustainable future.

Post-lockdown as economies open, the impact on the environment might be dire unless alternative sources of energy and public transport amongst other matters are adopted.

“As we look forward to the research findings and recommendations on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative to note that while no person chooses to go through this pandemic, the power to truly transform the environment and make the best decisions for the future generation begins and ends with us,” they conclude.

By Lungile Manzini and Lerato Moja, sustainability experts at the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Edited by Luis Monzon
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