A blanket of choking smog has enveloped New Delhi, forcing schools to close and disrupting the Cricket World Cup as officials scramble to contain a pollution crisis that has become an annual event in the Indian capital.
“Unfortunately, every year when November rolls around there is a sense of dread as the air stinks,” said resident Prachi Bhuchar. “We’ve been in Delhi for over 15 years now, but every year it gets harder to stay because it’s a living hell.”
The city’s air quality plummeted last week after cooler temperatures trapped particulate matter from nearby crop burning, creating a toxic haze that reached dangerous levels for the fourth straight time. day on Monday.
New Delhi started the week with PM 2.5 concentrations nearly 80 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit, according to Swiss air quality company IQAir.
PM 2.5 particles include pollutants such as sulfates, nitrates and black carbon, and exposure to them impairs cognitive and immune functions with links to lung and heart diseases.
Traffic moves on a road shrouded in fog and smoke in New Delhi, India, on November 3, 2023.
Pollution threatens the ongoing Cricket World Cup after Sri Lanka were forced to cancel their weekend training session as the men prepared to play Bangladesh at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in the capital on Monday.
To ease the conditions, the Indian cricket board last week announced a ban on firework displays for the remaining matches of the tournament.
Authorities are trying to relieve the city of its smog, implementing emergency measures including stopping non-essential truck movement and construction work. People wore face masks and trucks sprinkled water on the roads to reduce dust levels in the city.
Concerned residents also rushed to buy air purifiers, local media reported, after doctors advised residents to stay indoors to avoid exposure to toxic fumes.
Awesta Chaudhary said it was “very scary” that her almost three-year-old son was growing up in “such toxic conditions.”
“I noticed that no matter how small the window or door is, the smoke is only inside your house. I didn’t take (my son) to the parks. We tried to limit him indoors as much as possible because we were afraid of exposing him,” he said.
“I believe the government can do more than what they have already done, and stricter regulations should be made to curb the level of pollution,” said Chaudhary, who said he runs his air purifier for over for 72 hours straight. .
No one was saved
India has long struggled with the problem of smog, which ranges from choked urban centers with heavy vehicular pollution and industrial waste, to agricultural areas suffering from pollution from crop burning – a practice of burning fields to prepare the land for the next harvest. .
New Delhi, home to more than 20 million people, is consistently ranked among the most polluted cities in the world and research shows that the health of residents is suffering.
According to a 2021 study by the Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chicago (EPIC), poor air quality will reduce the life expectancy of Delhi residents by up to nine years.
The study also found that each of India’s 1.4 billion residents suffers from annual average pollution levels that exceed the guidelines set by the WHO.
Vipin Kumar / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
A passenger plane prepares to take off at IGI Airport amid thick smoke on November 5, 2023 in New Delhi, India.
In 2019, the central government announced a national clean air campaign, with the aim of reducing particulate pollution by up to 30% by 2024.
Specific plans are made for each city; in Delhi, those plans include measures to reduce road traffic, combustion and road dust, and to encourage the use of cleaner fuels.
But in the past few years, India’s pollution problem has worsened, partly because of the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Doctors say they have seen an increase in pollution-related illness, with patients complaining of coughs, throat irritation, shortness of breath and skin problems, among others.
“Illnesses from pollution have worsened over the years due to long-term exposure and worsening levels,” Dr. Suranjit Chatterjee, senior consultant in Internal Medicine at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi told CNN on Monday.
“The high level of pollution does not save anyone but the most vulnerable population are people with lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and lung damage.”