A bird flies amidst smog near India's Presidential Palace in New Delhi on Wednesday. Anushree Fadnavis/ Reuters
Cooler temperatures and lighter wind trapped heavy smog over the Indian capital on Wednesday, pushing pollution to “severe” levels in many places with no immediate relief in sight, government agencies said.
The overall air quality index (AQI) in the city was 494, according to the monitoring agency SAFAR.
The index measures the levels of airborne PM 2.5 - particles that can reach deep into the lungs. Anything above 60 is considered unhealthy.
With the cool season setting in, the city was likely to suffer for weeks.
“Now that it is getting colder, air is not rising high enough to disperse pollutants. The whole trapping is happening close to the ground,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, an executive director at Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation.
The Central Pollution Control Board said pollution levels had touched 500 in some parts of the city, meaning danger for healthy people, not just those suffering from existing conditions.
Farmers burning stubble in their fields in areas around the city have been generating clouds of acrid smoke, SAFAR said, and the smog could get even worse.
“No sudden recovery is expected under this condition at least for the next two days and AQI is likely to deteriorate further,” it said.
The city government is restricting private cars until Nov.15 with an “odd-even” system based on the licence plates but Roy Chowdhury was not optimistic it would help much, given the weather.
“Emergency measures cannot clear the air up when there is no wind to blow pollution away. It is a day-to-day battle right now,” she said.
More children are in hospital with breathing problems as pollution levels remain dangerously high in New Delhi, doctors warned on Wednesday, and the government shut five power stations and extended school closures to try to contain the crisis.
The world cannot anymore take the issue of air pollution lightly. Indian capital, Delhi, which is facing an air pollution emergency, has sent a strong message to the rest of the world
Indian authorities on Friday announced a plan to restrict the movement of private cars in the capital for nearly two weeks after a major Hindu festival that features fireworks that cloak the area with toxic smog and dust.
The household emissions from cooking, space heating, water heating and lighting are responsible for as much as 30 per cent of the annual PM 2.5 exposure, according to modelling studies jointly conducted by scientists from IIT Delhi, University of California, Urban Emissions and University of Illinois at Urbana.
Last month, the government had raised the price of petrol and diesel by 35 PKR per litre each, a couple of days before the scheduled date of revising oil prices, apparently bowing to hoarders rather than taking action against them, The Express Tribune reported.
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The last two days have brought dramatic rescues, including small children emerging from mounds of debris more than 30 hours after Monday's pre-dawn quake. But there was also widespread despair and growing anger at the slow pace of rescue efforts in some areas.