‘Dangerous’ smog suffocates India’s capital

‘Dangerous’ smog suffocates India’s capital


Smog in New Delhi reached “dangerous” levels on Thursday as smoke from thousands of crop fires in north India combined with other pollutants to form a toxic gray cocktail that shrouded the megacity.

The concentration of the most dangerous particles – PM2.5, so tiny that they can enter the bloodstream – was 588 per cubic meter early Thursday morning, according to monitoring firm IQAir.

That’s almost 40 times the daily maximum recommended by the World Health Organization. IQAir classified the overall pollution as “dangerous”.

“This really is the worst time to travel in Delhi. You never wake up to that pollution,” police officer Hem Raj, 42, told AFP.

“The body feels tired and lethargic in the morning… Eyes are always watery and throat is sore after spending hours on the streets of Delhi,” he said.

Each winter, cooler air, smoke from stubble-burning farmers, and emissions from vehicles and other sources combine to create a deadly smog that obscures visibility in the city of 20 million people.

In 2020, a Lancet study attributed 1.67 million deaths to air pollution in India in 2019, including nearly 17,500 in the capital.

Delhi authorities regularly announce various plans to reduce pollution, such as halting construction, but with little effect.

Post-harvest paddy burning in Punjab and other states continues every year despite efforts to persuade farmers to use other methods.

The situation is also a political flashpoint – with the capital and Punjab ruled by the Aam Aadmi Party, a rival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“To date, Punjab, an AAP-run state, has seen an increase in farm fires of over 19% compared to 2021,” Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, who is a member of the BJP, tweeted on Wednesday.

“There is no doubt who turned Delhi into a gas chamber,” he added.

“I’ve been here a long time now and the situation has only gotten worse. We spend 8 to 10 hours on the streets of Delhi every day and it’s tough because the pollution affects everyone,” said Brij Lal, 54, another police officer.

“But we can’t do much about the situation because the police have to be on the streets and among the people all the time.”

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