First stubble fires start to show up on Nasa map
Farmers have begun burning crop residue in parts of Punjab and Haryana, satellite images from the United States space agency Nasa has shown, suggesting an early start to a practice that plunges much of the region, including Delhi, into a pollution crisis in the run up to the winter.
Data from Nasa’s (national aeronautics and space administration) fire information for resource management system (FIRMS) shows a progressive increase in detection of fire in areas that typically have farmlands.
Pawan Gupta, a research scientist at the Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research (GESTAR), Universities Space Research Association, said that the most number of fires, shown as red spots on the map was seen from Amritsar district in Punjab.
“Crop fires in the state of Punjab and Haryana have started appearing in India. This year, we will be supporting satellite air quality data analysis and forecasting through a community forum for better understanding the impact of such fires on local weather and environment,” said Gupta.
Data provided by Gupta shows that in the Amritsar district, between September 13 and September 16, five to seven fires were spotted through satellite monitoring. However, the number started rising and reached 26 on September 18 and on September 19 as many as 50 fires were spotted. On September 20, 62 fires were observed only in the district.
Apart from Amritsar, other districts in Punjab where stubble burning fires are being seen are Tarn Taran, Firozpur, and parts of Kapurthala, Mansa and Jalandhar, where every day, at least two fires are seen.
A senior official of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) said that these fires were signs of ‘early varieties’ of crops being harvested.
“We are hoping that the number of stubble burning cases will be less this year. Our teams are alert but these fires are yet to start,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.
While the situation in Haryana is still better, fires were spotted in the districts of Fatehabad and Ambala.
Every year these farm fires usually begin in full-swing by mid-October, last year early fires were detected by September 25.
The practice is linked to paddy farming in both these states. As a cheap and quick solution, farmers set fire to vast spreads of crop residue in order to turn their farm around for winter sowing.
But this spews clouds of smoke in the atmosphere, which coupled with typical pre-winter conditions – slow, cooling winds that settle down closer to settlement – covers cities in a thick blanket of toxic smoke. The problem has turned into a public health crisis in recent years, with vulnerable people being advised to stay indoors.
This year, it is likely to exacerbate Covid-19 outbreak. Research from Italy, one of the first coronavirus hot spots, showed that air pollution was linked to worse mortality rates. The virus, in severe cases, causes respiratory distress -- a condition that can be made worse to exposure to polluted air.
By October 15, when monsoon retreats, winds change direction: they turn westerly and north-westerly, bringing in the smoke.
In Delhi, the average wind speed in winter ranges between one and three metres per second, which is nearly one-third the average speed in summer months.
Delhi government data shows that last year stubble burning accounted for 44% of Delhi’s air pollution.
Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai said that Punjab produces 20 million tonnes of crop stubble out of which 9 million tonnes was burnt last year. In Haryana, 1.23 million tonnes out of 7 million tonnes was burnt.