In­dia cap­i­tal chokes on toxic smog af­ter Di­wali

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

New Delhi was shrouded in a thick blan­ket of toxic smog yes­ter­day af­ter mil­lions of In­di­ans lit fire­crack­ers to mark the Di­wali fes­ti­val, with au­thor­i­ties re­port­ing record lev­els of pol­lu­tion in parts of the cap­i­tal. The read­ing for pol­lu­tants in the at­mos­phere breached the 1,000 mi­cro­gram mark for the first time in one neigh­bor­hood in south Delhi - 10 times the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s rec­om­mended level.

It came on the same day that an­other United Na­tions body re­ported how some 300 mil­lion chil­dren live with out­door air so pol­luted it can cause se­ri­ous phys­i­cal dam­age, with the sit­u­a­tion most acute in South Asia. Gufran Beig, chief sci­en­tist at In­dia’s state-run Sys­tem of Air Qual­ity Weather Fore­cast­ing and Re­search (SAFAR), said nee­dles on mon­i­tors in the RK Pu­ram neigh­bor­hood had flick­ered briefly past the 1,000 level late on Sun­day night at the fi­nale of a frenzy of fire­works.

The lev­els had sub­sided through the night but were still run­ning at more than 500 in sev­eral dis­tricts across the cap­i­tal by af­ter­noon. “Al­most 60-70 per­cent of the smoke came from the fire­crack­ers,” said Beig, who said the sit­u­a­tion had been widely ex­pected given that Di­wali is al­ways one of the worst pe­ri­ods for pol­lu­tion. “It was al­ready pre­dicted that the lev­els would in­crease sev­eral notches,” he said. In a health ad­vi­sory on its web­site, SAFAR said there was a “se­ri­ous risk” of res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems for peo­ple liv­ing in Delhi and all out­door phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity should be avoided. Peo­ple with heart or lung dis­ease, older adults and chil­dren should stay in­doors and keep ac­tiv­ity lev­els low, it added.

Lev­els of pol­lu­tion tra­di­tion­ally surge over Di­wali but the sit­u­a­tion this year had been wors­ened by high lev­els of mois­ture in the air and the burn­ing of agri­cul­tural residue by farm­ers on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal or in neigh­bor­ing states, Beig added. New Delhi’s air qual­ity has steadily wors­ened over the years, a con­se­quence of rapid ur­ban­iza­tion that brings pol­lu­tion from diesel en­gines, coal-fired power plants and in­dus­trial emis­sions. It also suf­fers from at­mo­spheric dust, burn­ing of crop stub­ble in farms around the city and pol­lu­tion from open fires lit by the ur­ban poor to keep warm in win­ter or to cook food.

Di­wali ef­fect

Delhi au­thor­i­ties have re­sponded with a series of mea­sures, in­clud­ing driv­ing re­stric­tions ear­lier this year that took around a mil­lion cars off the roads for two weeks and a ban on old trucks from en­ter­ing the city. Last week the city govern­ment also an­nounced plans to in­stall air pu­ri­fiers and a mist-mak­ing de­vice at ma­jor in­ter­sec­tions to curb chok­ing pol­lu­tion. But ex­pert An­u­mita Roy­chowd­hury said more needs to be done to tackle Delhi’s post-Di­wali air, which is al­ready sat­u­rated with the on­set of win­ter as cooler tem­per­a­tures trap pol­lu­tants. “Di­wali’s ef­fect will stay for a while now thanks to all the fire­crack­ers’ chem­i­cals and heavy me­tals re­leased into the al­ready-ag­gra­vated air,” Roy­chowd­hury, from the Del­hibased Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment said.

“There’s been a de­cline in the use of fire­crack­ers and there have been mea­sures to cut (smog) down, but the change is not big enough. We need to do a lot more,” she said, sug­gest­ing a strict li­cens­ing pol­icy on sales and a grad­ual phase-out of fire­crack­ers. A new study by the UN’s chil­dren’s fund UNICEF re­ported Mon­day that nearly one in seven chil­dren around the globe breathes out­door air at least six times dirt­ier than in­ter­na­tional guide­lines. “Pol­lu­tants don’t only harm chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ing lungs. They can ac­tu­ally cross the blood­brain bar­rier and per­ma­nently dam­age their de­vel­op­ing brains and, thus, their fu­tures,” said An­thony Lake, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of UNICEF. “No so­ci­ety can af­ford to ig­nore air pol­lu­tion.”—AFP

In this com­bi­na­tion of two pho­tos, traf­fic moves past the land­mark In­dia Gate mon­u­ment on Fri­day, Oct 28, 2016 (top) and a day af­ter Di­wali fes­ti­val yes­ter­day (bot­tom). As In­di­ans wake yes­ter­day to smoke-filled skies from a week­end of fes­ti­val fire­works for the Hindu hol­i­day of Di­wali, New Delhi’s worst sea­son for air pol­lu­tion be­gins, with dire con­se­quences. —AP

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