Delhi's smog-fight­ing he­li­copters can't fly – be­cause of smog

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Michael Safi in Delhi

An am­bi­tious plan to use he­li­copters to fight Delhi’s air pol­lu­tion has been grounded – be­cause the air­craft can­not op­er­ate in such thick smog.

The Delhi gov­ern­ment had en­gaged a state-owned he­li­copter com­pany to for­mu­late a plan to use the air­craft to sprin­kle wa­ter over the city.

It was hoped the wa­ter would help to set­tle the thick haze of pol­lu­tants that has en­gulfed the In­dian cap­i­tal in the last week, trig­ger­ing what doc­tors have called a “pub­lic health emer­gency”.

But that plan hit a bump on Mon­day, when city ad­min­is­tra­tors were told the chop­pers would be un­able to help dis­si­pate the smog un­til the smog it­self cleared.

“Right now, with the pre­vail­ing smog, it is not pos­si­ble for the he­li­copters to carry out op­er­a­tions,” the chair­man and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the com­pany, BP Sharma, told the In­dian Ex­press.

“We have com­mu­ni­cated the same to the Delhi gov­ern­ment. There was a meet­ing re­gard­ing this on Mon­day.”

The other hitch is that many parts of Delhi – par­tic­u­larly its south­ern quar­ters where par­lia­ment, the pres­i­dency and the prime min­is­ter are all based – are within a strictly po­liced no-fly zone.

A spokesman for the city gov­ern­ment could not be reached but told the In­dian Ex­press: “There are a few is­sues and these will be worked out while cre­at­ing the [stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure]. All stake­hold­ers are be­ing con­sulted.”

A 2015 study found that 52% of the par­tic­u­late mat­ter in the city’s air was from dust kicked up by the tens of thou­sands of cars that ply its roads. Un­cov­ered sand and soil from con­struc­tion sites also con­trib­ute to the chok­ing at­mos­phere. But ex­perts have ques­tioned whether spray­ing wa­ter can make a dif­fer­ence.

In the last week, mas­sive crop burn­ing in neigh­bour­ing states and slow winds have also been a fac­tor in send­ing air pol­lu­tion lev­els in parts of north In­dia to more than 30 times World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion stan­dards for daily ex­po­sure.

A last­ing so­lu­tion would re­quire a na­tion­ally co-or­di­nated re­sponse across sev­eral north In­dian states, but the cen­tral gov­ern­ment has so far been re­luc­tant to take con­trol of the prob­lem.

A man runs across an ex­press­way cloaked in smog near Delhi. Pho­to­graph: Cathal Mc­naughton/Reuters

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