A pollution monitoring system developed by Indian scientists has come in for praise from the United Nations as an important step to ensure clean air during the Commonwealth Games.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), a specialised agency of the UN, said the System of Air Pollution Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) will serve as an example within India, South Asia and globally.
Aimed at managing air quality, it has been developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune.
"The WMO recognises SAFAR as a very important activity in the region and will make all efforts to get international visibility for the project," L. Jalkanen, head of the WMO's Atmospheric Environment Research Division, wrote in a letter to SAFAR project director Gurfan Beig in March.
The UN recognition holds significance as some athletes have hinted at skipping the Games, as they fear that Delhi's air is unsafe to breathe.
Scientists at IITM are elated and confident that the system will help in ensuring clean air during the Games, dubbed as the first ever Green Games.
"SAFAR will make India one of the few countries to take a big leap in environmental research," Beig told IANS.
"The system will tell us the quality of air at a given moment and also what it will be 24 hours later, thus alerting people and helping them avoid immediate exposure to unhealthy air."
SAFAR will provide information on air quality on an hourly basis and forecast pollution levels 24 hours in advance through wireless colour digital display panels located at 11 key points in the city during the Games.
"On any day, if the pollution level is high, the Delhi government might order closing of shops or reducing traffic flow," Indian Meteorological Department director Ajit Tyagi told IANS.
Only a few developed countries have the technical knowhow to use such a system. It was used during the Olympic Games in Beijing and also at the last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
The Indian capital is among the most polluted cities in the world. Its major problem is an ever-growing number of cars, three- and two- wheelers, which occupy a staggering 75 percent of the road space, although only 20 percent of the commuting public use them.
Delhi has over five million vehicles and another one million come to the metropolis from towns in the national capital region in adjoining states.
China had a tough time battling air pollution during the Olympic Games last year and there are doubts whether Delhi can be as effective as Beijing in enforcing traffic curbs, raising emission standards and stopping Games' construction work well in time to improve air quality.
SAFAR will provide air quality levels in a four-kilometre stretch around the Games village and other major venues. Instruments like ozone and carbon monoxide analysers and real time analysers for various other pollutants would be used for collecting the data.
The system will provide details about oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, black carbon and benzene present in Delhi air.
"Exposure to the pollutants will affect human health, increased respiratory symptoms, heart and lung diseases, allergies being some of them," said Beig.
SAFAR's inputs will greatly help in identifying the major sources of air pollutants and recommending measures to help improve the air quality.