Why you should care
The government's stepping in to fix it, but this is unlikely to blow over easily.
India declared a public health emergency in the Delhi region Friday after air pollution levels spiked to “severe-plus” levels, blanketing the city in toxic smog and forcing people to stay indoors for safety reasons.
The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority issued an order on Friday to close schools, stop construction and shut coal and other fuel-based factories until Nov. 5. It also banned the use of firecrackers during the winter season.
“We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution is now hazardous and will have adverse health impacts on all, but particularly our children,” wrote Chairman Bhure Lal in the order.
At least 140 million people in India are breathing air 10 times or more over the World Health Organization’s safe limit for pollution concentration.
On Friday, the air quality index hit pollution levels over 400, many times above the safe level of 50. Industrial production, vehicle emissions, farmers burning fields and local pollution — including celebratory firecrackers released during the annual Diwali festival — all contributed.
India’s air quality is now far worse than China’s ever was. In fact:
“Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighboring states,” tweeted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. “It is very important that we protect ourselves from this toxic air.”
The last time Delhi’s pollution was this severe was in January. “Air pollution is a massive problem; newborns have chest issues,” said Danish Ali, a 29-year-old who works at a mobile phone repair shop in Delhi. “We try to stay indoors and wear masks.”
The emergency puts a renewed spotlight on New Delhi’s ineffective efforts to reduce pollution. “Nothing has fundamentally changed in the way industries operate,” said Karthik Ganesan, a research fellow at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a Delhi-based think tank. “Breathing in Delhi is dangerous for 300 days of the year.”
Pollution concerns have spread to the game of cricket. There were calls to postpone the India-Bangladesh Twenty20 cricket match scheduled for Sunday. Two years ago, a Sri Lankan player vomited on the pitch after playing in heavily polluted Delhi air.
“In the future, when we schedule, especially in the northern part of India during the winter, we will have to be a little bit more practical,” Sourav Ganguly, president of India’s Board of Control for Cricket, told reporters.
The smog in Delhi is contaminated with particulate matter small enough to make it into the bloodstream. Medical studies show air pollution has wide-ranging health impacts, including an elevated risk for heart attacks and strokes, increased risk of asthma, reduced fetal growth, stunted development of children’s lungs and cognitive impairment.
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