Photos show choking smog in New Delhi, where the air's so bad that flights had to be diverted and one politician said it's like a 'gas chamber'

Sakib Ali/Hindustan Times via GettyVehicles ply on road amid heavy smog, at NH 9 road, on November 3, 2019 in Ghaziabad, India.
  • In New Delhi, the Indian government declared a public health emergency as smog levels more than doubled a “severe-plus” level, based on an index that measures particles, fumes, and chemicals in the air.
  • Air pollution has become typical in India’s winter, and this is the worst the city has seen in three years.
  • The smog comes from several factors – nearby farmers burning off “stubble” or old crops, emissions from the city’s millions of vehicles, dust from construction, and firecrackers set off to celebrate the Diwali Festival.
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In New Delhi, 40 million people are choking on the worst smog in years.

Air pollution is so bad in India’s capital that the Washington Post’s India correspondent Niha Masih compared the “dystopian” site to Mordor, the fictional volcanic waste-land in “The Lord of the Rings.”

The smog comes from nearby farmers burning off old crops called “stubble”, emissions from the city’s millions of vehicles, dust from construction, and firecrackers being used to celebrate the Diwali Festival.

The Indian government has responded by closing schools, handing out millions of masks, and instigating an odd-even rule for driving, but smog is still blanketing the city.

Here’s what it looks like on the ground.


It’s difficult to see through the thick haze that’s choking New Delhi, a city of 20 million people. Unfortunately, it’s become normal for the city’s skyline to disappear during the winter, as the wind drops and the smog settles.

Manish Swarup / APDelhi’s sky line is seen enveloped in smog and dust in New Delhi, India, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.

Sources: The New York Times, NBC News


The Washington Post’s India correspondent Niha Masih said the city’s air is filled with a foul, pungent smell that makes the eyes water and induces coughing. Even healthy people feel breathless if they stay outdoors too much, she told NPR.

Manish Swarup / APIndian and foreign tourists wear pollution mask and take a walk at the India Gate amidst morning smog in New Delhi, India, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019.

Source: NPR


Some roads are almost impossible to see down. Masih told NPR it was difficult to see more than 160 feet ahead. That’s less than the length of a typical city block.

Sakib Ali/Hindustan Times / GettyVehicles ply on road amid heavy smog, at NH 9 road, on November 3, 2019 in Ghaziabad, India.

Sources: The New York Times, NPR


On Friday, the Indian government declared a public health emergency, and advised people to not take any morning or afternoon walks.

Jewel Sawad / AFP / GettyA man crosses a street in smoggy conditions in New Delhi on November 4, 2019.

Sources: NPR, Reuters, The New York Times


More than 30 flights into New Delhi were cancelled, because pilots couldn’t see through the smog.

Manish Swarup / APAn Indigo plane lands amidst evening smog at the Delhi airport in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

Source: CNN


Over the weekend, the air became so toxic in some areas that breathing the air was as bad as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

Manish Swarup / APAn Indian walks up to the stairs as Delhi’s sky line is seen enveloped in smog and dust in New Delhi, India, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.

Source: The New York Times


On Sunday, the air quality index rose to 900 units, far higher than 500 units, which is the level where air pollution is labelled “severe-plus.” The index measure particles, fumes, and chemicals in the air.

Anushree Fadnavis / ReutersBirds fly as people commute near India’s Presidential Palace on a smoggy day in New Delhi, India, November 1, 2019.

Source: Reuters


One resident, Siddharth Singh, told CNN that life in the smog was very strange. “Everything is hazy, so the eyes don’t focus on objects in the distance. Everything looks morose,” he said.

Jewel Samad / AFP / GettyA youth wearing a protective face mask walks along a street in smoggy conditions in New Delhi on November 4, 2019.

Source: CNN


There are a number of causes behind the city’s blanket of smog. One of them is the exhaust fumes from vehicles.

Manish Swarup / APA Delhi Traffic police officer wears a pollution mask and clears the irritants in his eyes in New Delhi, India, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019.

Source: CNN


The government is enforcing a plan to take 4 million cars off the road each day, using an odd-even car rule, where odd-number licence plates drive on odd dates of the week and vice versa. Those who break the rule are fined $US56. Here, the authorities look out from behind masks.

Manish Swarup / APAuthorities in New Delhi are restricting the use of private vehicles on the roads under an ‘odd-even’ scheme based on licence plates to control vehicular pollution as the national capital continues to gasp under toxic smog.

Source: CNN


This odd-even measure was also implemented in 2016 and has been criticised for its unclear results.

Money Sharma / AFP / GettyVolunteers from civil defence display a placard to aware drivers on a street after the local government ordered half of the city’s private cars to be taken off the road based on an odd-even registration plate system to help reduce air pollution, in New Delhi on November 4, 2019.

Source: NBC News


Another factor for the pollution is dust from the city’s constant construction, which the government has also temporarily halted.

Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times / GettyConstruction work on a pedestrian footpath amid existing smog in the capital at Mansingh Road, on November 2, 2019 in New Delhi, India.

Source: The New York Times


The situation wasn’t helped by coinciding with Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which people usually set off firecrackers to celebrate. The government tried to enforce a Supreme Court ban on the firecrackers, but people ignored it. Here, a worker cleans up the remains of many firecrackers.

Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times / GettyA Municipal Corporation Delhi (MCD) worker cleans a street during a heavy smog morning as the roads were covered with the waste of crackers burnt by people last night during Diwali celebrations, at Patel Nagar, on October 28, 2019 in New Delhi, India.

Sources: CNN, The New York Times


During Diwali, people celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, but at the moment, it’s tough to even see the sun.

Anushree Fadnavis / ReutersPeople rest in a park near the India Gate war memorial on a smoggy day in New Delhi, India, November 1, 2019.

Source: The Independent


But the main culprits for the smog are farmers in the neighbouring regions of Punjab and Haryana, who are burning off the “stubble” of old crops, to make way for new crops. According to India’s Ministry of Earth Science’s air quality monitor, the smoke from the farms was responsible for 44% of New Delhi’s air pollution.

Shammi Mehra / AFP / GettyAn Indian farmer burns paddy stubble in a field on the outskirts of Jalandha in 2016.

Sources: NPR, BBC,The Guardian


Last week, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the city had been “turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning.” On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered all crop burning to stop immediately, saying farmers couldn’t “kill others for their own livelihood.”

Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times / GettyDelhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia seen helping a student as he puts on a mask, at Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya, Civil Lines on November 1, 2019 in New Delhi, India.

Sources: CNN, Business Insider


Kejriwal also ordered 5 million masks to be distributed to school children and ordered the closure of schools in the city, but it might not be enough to keep them healthy.

Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times / GettyA girl wearing pollution masks to protect against air pollution as heavy smog descends, on November 3, 2019 in Noida, India.

Smog is linked to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, lung disease, and lung cancer. UNICEF released a report in 2017 that found India’s air pollution could be causing children to suffer permanent brain damage.

Manish Swarup / APMotorcyclists cover their faces with scarf to save themselves from air pollution as they wait at a crossing in New Delhi, India, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019.

Sources: CNN, The New York Times, UNICEF


And people are getting fed up with the fact that nothing changes in New Delhi, year after year. Here, young protesters demand for something be done to reduce the pollution. One signs says, “Smoking is injurious to health and so is Delhi’s air.”

Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times / GettyMembers of Democratic Youth Federation of India (Delhi) and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (Delhi) wearing masks display placards during a protest march demanding implementation of measures to reduce air pollution, on November 3, 2019 in New Delhi, India.

Source: BBC


Smog isn’t the only form of pollution that’s affecting the lives of locals. Here, a woman performs rituals during the Chhath Puja festival in the Yamuna River, which is covered with chemical foam.

Altaf Qadri / APAn Indian Hindu devotee performs rituals in Yamuna river, covered by chemical foam caused due to industrial and domestic pollution, during Chhath Puja festival in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.

Local Circles, a private consultancy firm, found that 40% of a survey of 17,000 people who live in New Delhi said they wanted to leave the region specifically because of pollution.

Parveen Kumar/Hindustan Times / GettyCars and motorists out in the road during smog and hazy weather at Delhi-Gurugram Expressway near Sector-31 flyover, on November 2, 2019 in Gurugram, India.

Source: Business Insider


The Indian Meteorological Department said weather conditions could improve in the coming days, but wasn’t sure what effect it would have on the smog.

Prakash Singh / AFP / GettyPeople make their way on a street in smoggy conditions in New Delhi on November 4, 2019.

Source: CNN


As Masih told NPR, unless the government or an overarching agency does something, New Delhi’s smog problem won’t just blow away.

Sajjad Hussain / AFP / GettyA rickshaw drives along a road under heavy smog conditions, in New Delhi on November 3, 2019.

Sources: NPR, The Economic Times

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