Sri Lanka’s air pollution crisis


The air quality of Sri Lanka’s commercial capital Colombo had been drastically reduced during the end of last November and made into big news headlines. This was a foreign topic to Sri Lankans, but for our neighbors in India, the low-quality air in highly populated cities is an annual climatic hazard. Also, digging through the archives of air quality index of US embassy Sri Lanka, one can find that this was not the first time Colombo air got unhealthy. During October- December quarter of 2018, few days has reported unhealthy air quality. Since the issue has risen, we decided to give a brief insight into the problem.

Image Source : Lanka Views
Colombo Air pollution

Air Quality Index

The Air Quality Index, AQI, is used by authorities to regulate levels of air pollution; according to the World Health Organization, AQI levels under 25 are acceptable for humans to breathe regularly. Corresponding to the national air quality standards, different countries have different indices. This is a critical measure about how healthy the air of a certain region for people to breathe.

Recent Wave

According to WHO the air quality of New Delhi is the worst a major city can have over the entire world. In India, the air pollution is the 5th largest killer factor, which kills more than 2.5 million per year. Delhi air quality reduces to hazardous levels every year, in the last quarter due to various factors including stubble burning, road dust, vehicle pollution and cold weather. This was never been an issue that affects Colombo, even though the air quality indices of the city have been spiked very rarely due to its own reasons.

But in 2019, Delhi air quality issues affected directly to Sri Lanka as well. The smog- laden air shed in Delhi hit Colombo through spreading, which awakened a new reality. The unclear top of the Lotus Tower was a popular photo that has been circulated among every social media during the last few days of November. It was the smog that was appeared to be in the Delhi air and the long-range conveyance of pollution evidently affecting the Air quality of Colombo that made it into news. It is possibly the first time that the air quality worsening happened in Colombo was associated to a pollution episode in India.

The reasoning

Colombo may not have anticipated this scenario that could raise our air quality values to unhealthy levels. Although this was a sudden hit, here’s what could cause the bad air in cities. Due to many activities and intrusions worldwide by humans in our pursuit to shape the society, air a basic resource had been a victim. Development, therefore, has come at substantial cost. Most of us got sensitized to the issue in India because of the trans-boundary pollution that took place.

Image Source : Ada derana

The most concerning parameters for the cause are fine dust and ground level ozone. From these two, fine dust caused the situations arouse in Delhi and Colombo. It is the former that was the concern in Colombo and in Delhi. Since the dust particles are too tiny and fine these can go deep into lungs and to the blood stream with the chemicals and poisonous impurities they carry. In the case, transport, power stations and cooking cause the pollutants. Present classify diesel fumes as carcinogenic substance. Basically, the smog is not a natural disaster, it is entirely man-made.

The solution

Sri Lanka had air quality improvement plans. Electric vehicles and renewable energy are an important goal with definite benefits. But the inconsistent policy and tariff implementation has become the factor that keeps the goals from reaching. People should understand the underlying causes and change from within. Therefore, cheating on your emission test won’t be a good thing if you want to see your children breathing normal air, not oxygen that bought from stores, just like Delhi.


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