Remnants of a ‘severe’ dust storm — which originated over Sistan basin in Afghanistan — could hit North India within the next 48 hours, scientists from the Union ministry of earth sciences warned on Tuesday.This, along with dust coming in from Thar Desert in Rajasthan because of strong winds, could lead to a sharp increase in dust pollution in the national capital by Thursday. The storm was last spotted over Karachi on Monday afternoon. It was likely to hit Ahmedabad on Wednesday. “There is a severe dust storm that originated from the Sistan Basin in Afghanistan and the dust travelled up to Karachi on Monday. A diluted plume is likely to hit northern part of India, including Delhi in two days. Also fresh dust uplift due to strong surface winds from Thar Desert is expected,” said a statement issued by SAFAR, the pollution forecasting agency of the ministry of earth sciences, on Tuesday. On Tuesday, pollution levels in Delhi had already shot up to near ‘severe’ levels because of intense heat and strong winds, which churned up local dust from parched soil. The 24-hour average Air Quality Index (AQI) for Tuesday was 300, which was in the poor category. Because of the local dust storm, triggered by an approaching western disturbance, the national capital was engulfed in a thick haze on Tuesday morning. It started around 3am on Tuesday. “The level of PM10 (coarse dust) shot up to 404ug/mg by 6pm on Thursday. It was four times above the daily permissible limits. As the pollution was mainly because of strong winds lifting local dust, the level of PM10 shot up. The level of PM2.5, pollutants triggered by vehicles and industries, were still low and less than two times above the safe standards,” said a senior official of the Central Pollution Control Board. This is, however, not the first time that Delhi will be witnessing a spike in dust pollution because of a dust storm that originated beyond the international borders. In August 2018, a dust storm in Oman had pushed up pollution levels in Delhi. In November 2017, when the national capital was reeling under severe pollution, a dust storm in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia had contributed to nearly 40% of the dust in Delhi.“A study conducted by the CPCB and IIT-Delhi had even found that minute air-borne salt particles originating from salt pans in Afghanistan were pushing up pollution levels in Delhi, mostly during the winter months when westerly and northwesterly winds flow,” said D Saha, former head of the CPCB’s air quality laboratory.