Any upsides to the coronavirus crisis pale in comparison to the tragedy of the massive death toll, but that doesn’t mean we should totally ignore the silver linings. In India, the shutdown of factories and reduction of the use of trains, planes, and vehicles has led to some of the clearest skies in recent memory.
The country is home to 14 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, but since it entered a nationwide lockdown on March 25, Mumbai was the only Indian city in the top 20 by April 8. Pollution levels have dropped so dramatically that some residents in northern India say they can see the Dhauladhar range, part of the Himalayas, from over 100 miles away for the first time in decades.
— TjSingh (@covsinghtj) April 3, 2020
According to Jyoti Pande Lavakare, co-founder of the Indian environmental organization Care For Air, the lack of recent pollution proves that much of that pollution had been the result of human activity. “Obviously,” he said, “slowing down the economy to such a degree isn’t the ideal way of bringing down air pollution, but at least it proves that it can be done, if the intention is there.”
It’s estimated that the lockdown improved the air quality index to satisfactory levels in around 90 percent of the 103 cities monitored by the Central Pollution Control Board. Last month, only half of the cities monitored had satisfactory air.
In the state of Punjab’s Jalandhar district, resident Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal said, “We can see the snow-covered mountains clearly from our roofs. And not just that, stars are visible at night. I have never seen anything like this in recent times.”
— Abbu Pandit (@abbu_pandit) April 3, 2020
Besides being simply a morale booster, the clearer conditions also serve a beneficial medical purpose. Air pollution exacerbates issues from respiratory diseases, making coronavirus patients more likely to develop complications.
India’s clean air might be short-lived, however. Once India emerges from the lockdown, its factories start working again, and transportation picks up, the pollution is likely to return. For now, India is on lockdown until April 15.