- 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.
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.
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.
On Friday, the Indian government declared a public health emergency, and advised people to not take any morning or afternoon walks.
More than 30 flights into New Delhi were cancelled, because pilots couldn’t see through the smog.
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.
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.
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.
There are a number of causes behind the city’s blanket of smog. One of them is the exhaust fumes from vehicles.
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.
This odd-even measure was also implemented in 2016 and has been criticised for its unclear results.
Source: NBC News
Another factor for the pollution is dust from the city’s constant construction, which the government has also temporarily halted.
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.
During Diwali, people celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, but at the moment, it’s tough to even see the sun.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
As Masih told NPR, unless the government or an overarching agency does something, New Delhi’s smog problem won’t just blow away.
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