Choking Delhi highlights air pollution hazards - GulfToday

Choking Delhi highlights air pollution hazards

Delhi smog

Girls cross a smoggy road in a New Delhi area. Reuters

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 on the repercussions of a callous approach on the crucial issue.  

With smog levels exceeding those of Beijing by more than three times, millions of people have been forced to suffer in what Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has called a “gas chamber” of poisonous smog.

According to independent online air quality index monitor AirVisual, New Delhi was the most polluted major city in the world on Monday, at twice the level of Lahore in Pakistan, which was a distant second.

New Delhi has seen a growing pollution problem each winter for the past decade but despite efforts to control the annual onslaught, current levels are the worst in three years.

On Monday morning, the concentration of PM2.5 — fine particles of less than 2.5 microns that can enter the bloodstream and penetrate the lungs and heart — was at 613, nearly 25 times the safe limit set by the World Health Organisation, according to the US embassy in Delhi. On Sunday it approached 1,000.

High levels of PM2.5 are linked to chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease. Greenpeace says more than 1.2 million Indians died prematurely in 2017 due to air pollution.

The pollution in Delhi caused a rush of respiratory complaints at hospitals and the diversion of as many as 37 flights on Sunday, forcing the authorities to implement a new law restricting cars from the capital’s roads to alternative days, depending on if their number plate ends in an odd or even number.

Construction was also banned temporarily last week in the city.

One study last year said that a million Indians died prematurely every year as a result. Deadly air pollution can cut life expectancy by up to seven years in northern India, according to another study by Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

New Delhi is also a victim of toxic cocktail. The city is hit each year by a storm of pollution that takes hold immediately after the Hindu festival of Diwali in October, when millions of revellers let off firecrackers.

The city of 20 million people is also threatened by the widespread burning of wheat and rice stubble in neighbouring farmlands, along with traffic fumes, factory emissions and smoke from fires used in poor neighbourhoods for heating and cooking.

Pollutants from this toxic cocktail get trapped over Delhi by cooler winter temperatures and the usually slow-moving winds that prevail at this time of year.

India’s Supreme Court has rightly pulled up the authorities by seeking accountability from state governments over the deteriorating air quality, saying the capital was choking every year, which ‘could not be allowed in a civilised country.’

Air pollutants are everywhere, largely caused by burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and heating, as well as from industrial activities, poor waste management and agricultural practices.

All countries need to work strenuously towards meeting WHO’s global air quality guidelines to enhance the health and safety of children.

The best way forward is for the authorities to go beyond short-term remedies.

As Daniel Cass, from global non-profit Vital Strategies, points out, measures like changing agricultural practices, switching electricity generation sources and accelerating the conversion of home heating from charcoal to natural gas, may hold the key in the pollution fight.