Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), one of the most harmful pollutants in our air, is increasing tremendously and posing risks to biodiversity. NO2 has major implications on health, it affects the respiratory system. Inhalation of nitrogen dioxide by children increases their risk of respiratory infection and may lead to poorer lung function in later life. There is also an association between nitrogen dioxide concentrations in the air and increases in mortality and hospital admissions for respiratory disease. Nitrogen dioxide can decrease the lungs’ defences against bacteria making them more susceptible to infections. It can also aggravate asthma.

An unintended side-effect of the initial responses to the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 was a dramatic reduction in air pollutant concentrations in many locations in India and worldwide. The reduction in air pollution levels because of the lock down restrictions had affected habitations too. People were exposed to cleaner air and marvelous flora and fauna. I could see the migratory birds – Flamingos –  in Navi Mumbai for a longer time, with a healthier environment. The vision cones had improved because of less haze in the atmosphere thus proving how air pollution has been affecting us all along.

According to satellite observations as obtained by Greenpeace, NO2 pollution increased to 125% between April 2020 and April 2021 in Delhi. The analysis also suggests the increase would have been greater had weather conditions been similar to 2020 (a 146% increase from 2020). Although relatively better than the capital, other Indian cities recorded an equally worrying increase in NO2 levels. Mumbai’s NO2 air pollution was 52% higher, Bengaluru by 90%, Hyderabad by 69%, Chennai by 94%, Kolkata by 11%, Jaipur by 47% and Lucknow by 32% in April 2021 compared to the same month last year.

With the release of restrictions, the cities were back to functioning in Covid-19 times, which has led again to the increase of air pollutants, especially NO2 levels. A few researches also suggest that there is growing evidence that polluted cities suffered disproportionately more coronavirus cases. However, because there has been little change to our reliance on fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and gas, increased economic activity is still largely coupled to the emission of toxic air pollution in many cities.

It is a very crucial stage of time which has now begun, where the need to conserve and protect the environment is an absolute necessity for our future on this planet. As an ecosystem of our planet, we need to change our attitude of letting go and not thinking about the resources that provide for us. Educating ourselves, with greener and cleaner options is a must.

A change in policy and individual lifestyle perspective should be introspective. Encouragement in the use of public transports, electric vehicles, shifting the public transport’s fuel engines to electric engines should be a must. Encouraging residential, commercial & industrial complexes to install solar panels for reducing the load on the government for producing electricity by introducing them in the new by laws could be a very beneficial act. Healthier practices of walking and cycling, while going to work or traveling to shorter distances should be instilled as an act to save ourselves.

It took a few months of ‘shutting down’ the world to regenerate, it’s high time we start acting now to make regeneration a norm and not merely an incident.

(Natasha Singhaniya is a graduate in architecture from Mumbai University and currently interning with Greenpeace India.)